Saturday, May 4, 2013

Helsinki, Forever (2008)

WHO: Peter Von Bagh made this.

WHAT: I have not seen this film, so let me quote from a short piece by Jonathan Rosenbaum:
a lovely city symphony which is also a history of Helsinki (and incidentally, Finland, Finnish cinema, and Finnish pop music) recounted with film clips and paintings
Sounds great, and perhaps not so dissimilar from Thom Andersen's amazing 2003 visual essay Los Angeles Plays Itself, which argues a history of that city through clips from fiction films shot there. And it turns out this comparison has been made before by writers who have seen both works.

WHERE/WHEN: San Francisco International Film Festival screening this afternoon at 3:00 at the Kabuki.

WHY: First of all, the subject of the film sounds just up my alley and makes me think I'll be trying to track down a copy of World Film Locations: Helsinki soon after the screening. Which reminds me to mention that the volume in that series of books that I contributed an essay to, World Film Locations: San Francisco, is now available for pre-order.

But the occasion of the screening would make me want to attend even if the film didn't sound as interesting to me as it does. Director Von Bagh will be on hand for the show, as he is receiving the Mel Novikoff Award for work that has "has enhanced the filmgoing public’s knowledge and appreciation of world cinema"- an award that has gone to critics like Manny Farber and Roger Ebert, archivists like Kevin Brownlow and Serge Bromberg, and programmers like Bruce Goldstein and Anita Monga. Von Bagh is not only a filmmaker but a historian and the director of the Midnight Sun Film Festival held in Sodankylä, Lapland at the time of summer each year when night never falls above the arctic circle, making the inside of a cinema the darkest place around 24 hours a day.

I don't know when I first heard rumor of this festival, but read more about it in Kenneth Turan's book Sundance to Sarajevo: Film Festivals and the World They Made, which immediately shot it to the top tier of my list of festivals I dream of attending one day. Looking at a partial list of filmmaker guests over the years make it clear that Von Bagh and his programming team have terrific taste, and my understanding is that Von Bagh is something of a film-on-film purist, insisting on film screenings even in the waning days of its viability as a mass-market medium.

The other day, I happened to be at a screening sitting next to another award recipient at this year's SFIFF: Philip Kaufman, who will be at the Castro Theatre tomorrow evening for an on-stage conversation before a screening of his great 1978 shot-in-San Francisco remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We got to talking, and he told me he'll be at the Midnight Sun festival for the first time this summer, and that he's currently trying to track down good prints of films he hopes to show there. Invasion of the Body Snatchers will be shown tomorrow digitally, however. 

But as film purist Carl Martin notes in his latest SFIFF round-up, last night's screening of Marketa Lazarová began with an announcement that another Castro screening of a 1970s film tomorrow will be screened on 35mm instead of previously-expected DCP. The film is The Mattei Affair, a political thriller by Francesco Rosi, a filmmaker who, like Kaufman, received an award from the SFIFF (in 1981) and later went on to attend the Midnight Sun festival (in 1999). Why is it being shown in 35mm even though the Film Foundation has helped prepare a new DCP they're trying to show off? The answer lies in Frako Loden's latest SFIFF round-up article, in which she reports on last weekend's  Pacific Film Archive screening via its new digital projector, in which subtitles froze on screen and essentially ruined the experience for non-Italian speakers in the audience. Rather than risk a repeat of such a snafu at the Castro, the festival has opted to use a trusty 35mm print for the 1:30 PM matinee. 

HOW: Helsinki, Forever screens in 35mm.


  1. I recently saw a 4K restoration of INVESTIGATION OF A CITIZEN UNDER SUSPICION and have to put away my celluloid looked amazing.

  2. And do not miss the Novikoff program today.

  3. Was this at the Lark, where it played last month, perchance?

    I'm not a purist myself, and am definitely open to the possibility of enjoying a DCP presentation of a classic title. I thought Yellow Submarine looked for the most part excellent that way, although the more stroboscopic moments lost something in translation. Perhaps if I felt more secure that 35mm screenings were going to continue to be an option for the foreseeable future, I wouldn't make such a priority of catching as many as I can, in fear that each might be my last chance to see a particular film in a way closely approximating the filmmaker's original intentions. DCP screenings, even of rarely-shown titles, don't inspire that sense of urgency in me.

    I think I'll also be less wary of them once the kinks have been worked out; I considered attending the PFA showing of the Mattei Affair and am glad I didn't, as that subtitle snafu would have been infuriating!

    On the plus side, I was running late to the shorts program following it at the venue, so the DCP-created delays may have saved me from missing Kathy Geritz's intro and perhaps even Deborah Stratman's opening short, which turned out to be one of the better ones in that program.

    I will definitely be there for the Novikoff program today. See you there!

  4. Brian and Gary: It was SO great, besides the film and Mr Van Bagh himself, to see and hear Edith Kramer, sporting a stylish hat to shield her face from our recent sun, delivering the introduction.
    Those of us who have been long time PFA members (for me, now 23 years) really miss her.

  5. It was a very pleasant surprise to have her on hand to give Von Bagh the award.