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Sweden’s Twin Winter Festivals Shine: Arctic Light and Stockholm International

Sweden's Twin Winter Festivals Shine: Arctic Light and Stockholm International

Sweden's Twin Winter Festivals Shine: Arctic Light and Stockholm International

>> Arctic Light: Shining Bright Amidst the Darkness

by Allan Piper

Few film festivals can boast nearly twenty-four hours of darkness,
temperatures as low as twenty below, feasts of reindeer meat, screenings
a thousand feet underground, and those in a theater built of ice. These
traits make the Arctic Light Film Festival in Sweden one of the world’s
most unusual festivals.

The ninth Arctic Light Film Festival took place from December 2-6 in
Sweden’s most northern city, Kiruna. The festival planners sought to
create a festival as unique as their city. “There is no other place in
the world that could have a festival like this,” says Magnus Leijer, one
of the festival’s organizers.

Ninety miles north of the Arctic Circle, Kiruna enjoys less than an hour
of daylight at this time of year. From about 9:00 am till noon, the city
glows with a pre-dawn illumination. Around noon, the sun peaks over the
south horizon in a sunrise/sunset that turns the snowy mountains bright
pink for almost an hour. By 2:30, the city is dark. The temperature
ranges from 5 degrees Fahrenheit in the heart of the city, to -20
degrees and lower in the outer edges.

“We are the world’s coldest festival. We are the world’s darkest
festival,” says Leijer. “We are even the world’s biggest festival.” The
claim to being the biggest festival comes from Kiruna’s immense size.
Despite a population of only about 20,000, the city spans a full 7,722
square miles, making it one of the geographically largest cities in the
world. Outside the city’s center, one can drive for miles without seeing
a single building or person — only snow, ice and the occasional

Compiling the film program, festival director Hans Kangasharju sought
antidotes to cold and darkness. Far from Bergmanesque drama, comedy and
escapism characterized the eclectic program, which showcased indie
features from thirteen countries, as well as several big budget
Hollywood products. The festival opened at the Folkets Hus theater on
Thursday, December 2nd, with the American action-comedy “Rush Hour.”
Other comedies included “The Wedding Singer,” Bill Plympton’s “Mondo
” and “I Married a Strange Person,” indie comedy “Starving
,” and a Swedish spoof of the “Die Hard” series, “Die Hardest
.” The comic, yet not-so escapist “Life Is Beautiful” was also part of
the program.

In addition to a conventional theater, the festival offered two
extraordinary screening venues. Giving a new meaning to the term
“underground film festival,” Arctic Light screened several movies more
than a thousand feet underground in Kiruna’s iron mine — the largest in
the world. Audience members donned hard hats and rode a shuttle into the
depths of the Kirunavaara mountain. The first movie to screen in this
workplace for underground laborers was the Swedish premiere of “Antz.”
Also screening in the mine was Emir Kusturica’s comedy, “Underground.”

If the depths of the Kirunavaara mine seemed like the Bat Cave, the next
screening venue was like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. It was a
theater built entirely of ice: roof, walls, supports, seats, and all.
Audience members wore thermal suits, sipped hot beverages, and sat on
reindeer pelts while watching videos projected on a screen that was also
made of ice. The films shown were from Canada’s Banff Festival of
Mountain Films: shorts about skiing, ice climbing, and other cold
outdoor activities that lent themselves to projection on ice. The ice
climbers in the documentary “Ice In Iceland” almost looked as if they
were climbing down the ice of the screen.

In addition to films from the U.S. and other parts of Europe, the
festival featured a series of Scandinavian shorts and five Scandinavian
features, including “A Summer By The River,” a heartwarming Finnish
comedy/family drama about the bawdy antics of a band of loggers and one
logger’s son.

The festival closed on Sunday with Kusturica’s comedy “Black Cat, White
.” Though Swedish subtitles offered an English-speaker little
insight into the Serbo-Croatian dialogue, the visual story-telling was
effective enough to make the comic tale of con-men, arranged marriages,
and would-be gangsters entertaining.

The festival organizers went to great lengths to introduce visiting
filmmakers to the strange beauty of northern Sweden. The splendor of
solid frozen lakes, twilight lit mountains, and wild roaming reindeer
was amazing. Equally impressive was the enthusiasm of the Swedish
audiences. Though Kangasharju warned that Christmastide festivities
would detract from the audiences’ numbers, all screenings seemed to
enjoy a healthy supply of eager viewers. For the small, but widespread
city of Kiruna, the Arctic Light festival offered a locus of light and
levity amid the frozen darkness.

[Allan Piper, the only American present at the festival, is the director
of “Starving Artists,” a microbudget comedy about a handful of hungry
artists, a street prophet, and a barrel of monkeys. Having recently
screened his movie at the Hawaii International Film Festival, Piper
enjoyed the cold and dark as an extreme climatic contrast.]

>> Stockholm International Awards “Wounds” and other International Beginners

by Lovisa Kilhberg

Stockholm’s ninth International Film Festival was bigger and broader
than in previous years, with both a larger amount of features presented
than ever before and a record-breaking turnout of audience and
celebrities. Despite the numbers though, Stockholm was still able to
retain its intimacy.

Set in this year’s Cultural Capital of Europe, Stockholm gave out a
number of awards to emerging independent filmmakers. For the second
time, Srdjan Dragojevic won Stockholm’s Bronze Horse for Best Film. In
’96, it was the Serbian director’s “Pretty Village, Pretty Flame” that
overwhelmed the jury, while this year it was “The Wounds” that won him
the prize. Having world premiered at Toronto, “The Wounds” tells the
story of two young men growing up in early nineties Belgrade. Without
parents to figure as role models and a society where the moral standard
is low, criminals can easily become heroes in the eyes of the young. The
film was not appreciated by the Serbian government who prohibited all
marketing of the film and the director’s name was not allowed to be
mentioned in any state controlled newspaper.

Happiness” by Todd Solondz which opened the festival, was the audience
pick for best film this year and the jury’s choice for Best Screenplay.
Best Directorial Debut went to French director Gaspar Noe for his film
I Stand Alone” (“Seul Contre Tous“). The film shows the life of an
ex-convict, ex-butcher turned jobless and viscious, walking through
Paris in search of a job. Meanwhile his bitter mind reveals his nasty
thoughts through the longest voice over in history. The film was also
awarded Best Cinematography by Dominique Colin. The prize for Best
short film went to “Dirt” by Chel White, an absurd film about a man
eating dirt and slowly turning into a self providing grocery store.

Newropa was a new section this year, showcasing new filmmakers from
Europe with highlights such as “Karisik Pizza” (from Turkey) and “Elvis
& Merilijn
” (from Italy). Asian Images was another addition to
Stockholm, with a celebration of the work of the recently deceased Akira
Kurosawa. Also screening in Asian Images was the Singaporean dance
movie, “Forever Fever,” on its way to Sundance ’99 — a comedy with a
sense of humor that appealed to the Swedish audiences. Made by Glen
Goei, the artistic leader of the Mu-Lan Arts Asian theater in London,
the debut film tells the story of a young shop attendant who mimics
Bruce Lee and dreams of buying a motorbike. He enters a dance contest to
win money for the bike and gets a few tips from Saturday Night Fever
character Tony who descends from the screen to help him with his moves.
With the biggest budget ever for a film made in Singapore, it still has
an independent feel to it, starring local knowns and unknowns who speak
‘Senglish’, English with a heavy Singapore accent.

The Last Days of Disco,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and “Out of
” were other popular screenings. Films such as these, although
bound to give the festival a larger audience, took away some of the
attention from the newer, more cutting-edge filmmakers. One attempt to
bring forth young and aspiring talent is an annual prize of 1 kilometer
(3,300 feet) of film stock and a week’s rental of a 16mm camera to a
young Swedish filmmaker. This year, the prize went to Jens Jonsson for
his film “Sefanja 1:3.” Last year’s winner Chris Anthony showcased his
new film “Be Quite and Shut the Fuck Up,” a 12-minute long musical that
unlike most contemporary song and dance films performs its numbers
without irony. This is not a sarcastic reference to the old days, but a
well directed, acted and choreographed musical short.

In Wayne’s Coffee, a fashionable cafe in the south part of Stockholm,
Face 2 Face interviews were given with festival celebrities. Whit
Stillman, Neil Jordan, Gena Rowlands and Irvine Welsh (whose film “Acid
” took the International Critics Prize) and many more spread their
shimmer to the festival, sharing their views on their films in this
year’s event.

Repeating last year’s highly popular late-night screenings, the festival
offered different theme nights. Loaded with snacks and coffee, the
dedicated enthusiasts entered the theater at 11 PM and didn’t exit until
9 AM the next morning. The screenings were as much a social event as a
cinematic experience. Themes such as Cult Night with a more Action-based
program, were not surprisingly easier to pull through than low tempo
sections such as Girl’s Night. One began to judge the films by their
power to keep you awake, putting films such as Randolph Kret’s “Pariah
on top.

[Lovisa a is a web designer, animator and writer based in Stockholm.]

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