Saturday, June 16, 2001

Day Three

Friends: The first program each day of the Midnight Sun Film Festival is a discussion between Peter Van Bagh and one of the tributees. Yesterday it was with Freddie Francis, a little known titan of the industry, an 84-year old English director/cinematographer who has worked with many true titans including Michael Powell, Joseph Cotton, Joseph Losey and David Lynch. He had a lively, self-deprecating sense of humor, perfectly matching that of Van Bagh, one of the founders of the festival and the only director the festival has had in its sixteen years. Frances has won two Oscars, one for "Sons and Lovers" and the other for "Glory," both for his cinematography. When Van Bagh introduced him, he apologized that the festival program said he had won only one Oscar and not two. "We would have had twice as many people here," he said, "if I had gotten it right."

The two-hour conversation was interspersed with clips from "Time Without Pity," "Moby Dick," "The Evil of Frankenstein," "The Elephant Man" and "The Straight Story." He was accompanied by his daughter. She too worked in the industry, including a ten-year stint with David Lean. Van Bagh, the obsessed film scholar, was thrilled to meet her and brought her up on stage so he could pick her brain along with her father's. He commented that he will most remember this festival for meeting her.

I am filing this report from the festival press room at its sole computer at 9:45 a.m. Next up is Van Bagh's interrogation of Jerry Schatzberg in fifteen minutes. That ought to be sensational too. Schatzberg has minced no words when he has introduced his films, talking about the people he has worked with and the difficulty of making movies. Tomorrow's tributee will be Agnes Jaouri, the 37-year old French actress/director whose latest film, "It Takes All Kinds," was nominated for a best foreign picture Oscar this year and already played at the Landmark Theater in Chicago.

Last night the circus tent was filled to capacity with 500 people for the presentation of D. W. Griffith's "Broken Blossoms" from 1919 starring Lillian Gish. It was accompanied by a twelve-piece orchestra. It earned a sustained standing ovation, the first of the festival, though the Finnish audiences have applauded every movie so far, sometimes immediately afterward, and sometimes a little later at the end of the credits.

Tonight's featured event under the Big Top will be "Jewish Happiness," a Russian movie from 1925. It will be introduced by Village Voice critic J. Hoberman. It will also have music accompaniment. The movie was directed by Aleksander Granowski. His cinematographer followed it up with the masterpiece "Battleship Potemkin," a film many critics consider one of the top ten movies of all time. Along with this rare event, my day will include four or five other movies and the Schatzberg interview. One more day of movies, and then I'm back on the bike, either to the far north, or west to the fjords of Norway, depending on the weather. There is a misty cold rain this morning here in the Arctic, a perfect day for movie-watching.

Later, George

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