Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Ivalo, Finland

Friends: Back on the road 100 miles further north at Ivalo on the great lake of Inarijarvi, the largest of Finland's 88,000 lakes. I have 280 miles to Nordkapp, Europe's northernmost point in Norway. The forests have not given way yet, though there have been a few bald patches in the now rolling terrain. I needed gloves and toe clip covers all day yesterday to keep my fingers and toes warm. When there's no sun, it is cold. The low cloud cover added a cold dampness to the conditions, though it never actually rained. I could see my breath early in the day. A long-sleeve t-shirt, sweater and vest is just enough to keep me warm along with tights on my legs. I have several layers in reserve if need be.

As long as I don't endure a soaking rain or the temperatures turn the rain to snow, I should be able to make it all the way to Nordkapp. The last eighty miles are out a peninsula that I will have to double back on. Maybe I'll go for it and maybe I won't. I could reach Land's End on the longest of these long days, June 21, the solstice, a most appropriate time to be there.

Despite the gloomy day, including a slight head wind, I was able to bask in the glorious memories of the festival. Robert Service, the poet laureate of the Yukon and the Far North, pronounced in his most famous poem, "The Cremation of Sam McGee," that, "There are strange things done in the midnight sun." This festival certainly testified to that. On numerous occasions I caught myself shaking my head at the incongruity of my circumstances. One of the most extreme occurred at two a.m. as I sat under the old circus tent on a bench at two in the morning with a couple of hundred Finns wearing 3D glasses going gaga over bats flying out of the screen and the innards of corpses bursting out of their bodies at us in "Flesh for Frankenstein."

And then an hour later I was even more boggled as I sat in the high school gymnasium staring at a screen flanked by the baskets from the basketball court watching a brilliant Norwegian documentary, "Cool and Crazy," about a thirty-man glee club from a small Arctic fishing village in Norway. The film alternated between getting to know the men in their homes and seeing them in performance. They were shown belting out their songs in small town churches and large concert halls, but most of their songs were staged in some dramatic outdoor setting by the director--besides a sledding hill at night, in front of a barrier with crashing waves, in a fish processing plant, and, most dramatic of all, in a blizzard as icicles formed on the men's beards and tears dripped off their faces. Their songs celebrated the harshness and glory of their land. The movie was voted audience favorite for the festival. If everyone had seen it, the vote would have been unanimous.

But my strongest memories of the festival were those involving the ring master Peter Van Bagh and his impish, glowing personality and his interaction with his tributees. Even though the majority of the audience at his conversations with the tributees spoke English, he would translate their answers into Finnish. He would have preferred not to have to translate so he could have more time asking questions, but when he asked one audience if everyone spoke English, three or four in the audience protested they did not. Von Bagh didn't mind altogether, as it allowed him to put his own spin on their responses. He had Jerry Schatzberg totally befuddled when his translations would get laughs even though his initial responses did not. Then when his translations wouldn't get a laugh, Jerry would complain that he wasn't making him sound funny.

As much as Van Bagh reveled in his ringmaster role, he was willing to defer to one of his colleagues to handle the interview with Agnes Jauri, the French actress/director whose film was up for best foreign Oscar this year, so it could be conducted in French and Finnish. I grimaced at this bad news, but still didn't mind being in her presence. After two or three questions, she protested to Van Bagh, sitting in the first row, that she didn't feel as if she was connecting to the audience and preferred to conduct the interview in English rather than French, though she would have to grope for a word or two. That was startlingly good news. But imagine if reports of this got back to France, it could ruin her career. Headlines would scream, "French Actress Chooses English Over French at Midnight Sun Film Festival." She was pleasantly unpretentious saying she didn't consider herself an intellectual and after talking with some of the attendees at the festival, not much of a cinephile either. She concluded her interview thanking the"simple and kind people of Finland. I liked it very much."

Schatzberg was a genuine revelation. Not only did he present a couple of masterpieces ("Scarecrow" and "Reunion"), he was refreshingly frank. Maybe he thought he could say whatever he wanted up here in Lappland and the word wouldn't get out. He mentioned that De Niro hasn't spoken two words to him since he chose Pacino over him for "Panic in Needle Park" back in 1971 when they were both unknown struggling actors. He told of firing a French actor two days before shooting was to begin, even though he was to be the star of the movie, as he was being totally uncooperative, refusing to cut his hair or do this or that. He told of not wanting his his film "Reunion" be in Competition at Cannes in 1989 because France Ford Coppola was the president of the jury and he knew Coppola wouldn't let his picture win. Schatzberg had won the Palm d'Or once before with "Scarecrow" in 1973. Coppola had won it twice and wanted to remain the only American to have done so.

Later, George

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