Peter von Bagh is a co-founder of the Midnight Sun Film Festival, a five-day, 24-hour marathon of movies and panels held annually in Sodankyla, Finland. Since 1986 some of cinema's most legendary filmmakers have spoken on panels that explore a bit more profound topics than the usual industry insights, with topics such as the impact that World War II, and political conflict at large, has had on film in the 20th century.
Within the four and a half hour documentary "Sodankyla Forever" from von Bagh, "The Century of Cinema" segment explores the internationally complex impact of World War II. Eastern European filmmakers like Milos Forman and Ivan Passer; Italians such as Ettore Scola; British luminaries like Michael Powell; and revolutionaries such as Abbas Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi of Iran, as well as Palestinian Elia Suleiman, are revealed in footage spanning years of the festival.
There are several American legends of the lens, such as Francis Ford Coppola, John Sayles, Samuel Fuller, Bob Rafelson, and Jonathan Demme, also featured. Together, this transcontinental delegation of film directors gives von Bagh several threads of thought-provoking talks woven into an intellectually charged documentary.
The aforementioned filmmakers comprise a substantial part of film history, embracing the Czechoslovakian New Wave, Italian Neorealists, French New Wave, Iranian New Wave, and the New Hollywood School that emerged in the '60s and '70s. The ripples of war affected not only the political and sociological unrest many of these filmmakers dealt with but also penetrated deeply personal themes in a youth orphaned by fathers who died on the frontlines.
When the Iron Curtain divided Eastern Europe, it forced free-thinking artists like Forman and Passer to flee their Czechoslovakian homeland. "Sodankyla Forever," at least the "Century of Cinema" segment, is like a European reality check to Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation" filtered through a cinematic lens.
The documentary doesn't excuse itself with pacifism, nor does it cheer the efforts of Allied nations fighting for the greater good of humanity. Like Picasso's "Guernica," it is an artistic reflection of the horrific realities and aftermaths that textbooks and nationalistic films tend to overlook.
Most American film production didn't dare challenge the status quo of military might until the Vietnam War erupted a counter-cultural artistic odyssey. Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" is a later culmination of the changing tide of this culture of rebellion. As Coppola said in the documentary, his films were meant to be "an antidote for false information." Culturally a film like "Apocalypse Now" holds so much relevance because it taps directly into profound philosophical truths in the human condition when faced with war.
Under the umbrella of war, and especially in the century's most tumultuous conflict, "Sodankyla Forever" can explore many interlinked issues. These highly influential filmmakers share both the personal and profound, the intimate and the intellectual. With that, seemingly scattered ideas on politics, humanity, oppression, censorship, death, and rebellions find a pattern as they stick to the web of war.
The "Century of Cinema" segment of "Sodankyla Forever" recently screened at the 34th Starz Denver Film Festival.
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