The US film writer Jonathan Rosenbaum had sent me the film but it was missing the final few chapters, which amounted to almost another 2 hours. Jonathan indicated to me that if anybody had it then it would be Peter. I fired an email off to Peter but after several months I had received no reply.
Then, whilst in Switzerland, I met up with Hervé Dumont the former director of the Cinémathèque suisse in Lausanne and he too spoke to me about Peter and said that he would almost certainly have the film and to try emailing again. So I did and that’s when our friendship started.
Peter did indeed have the complete film, albeit in poor condition but watchable, and I was able to edit my first part of the film together with his remaining chapters before subtitling it.
This initial email started a steady flow of emails back and forth on film related matters, rare films, tracking down titles for him and helping him with sourcing items for Il Cinema Ritrovato and the summer school at the Cineteca di Bologna. I finally met Peter in London in 2010 when he was over with his wife and daughter for a few days and we met in the cafe at the National Theatre on the South Bank where we spent a good hour or so just chatting and sharing our love of film. Then it was later that year that I attended my first ever Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankylä.
I arrived in Helsinki where I stayed a few days at Peter’s apartment in the city, which doubles up as his office. The apartment is literally crammed full from floor to ceiling with the most incredible collection of books on film that you could possibly imagine. There were also boxes scattered about the apartment containing all manner of films in various formats from Betamax to VHS to even V2000 and reel to reel tapes. Folders crammed fool with articles from magazines, film stills and cataloguing material. I was like a child in a sweet shop, not knowing what to look at and devour first!
I spent a few days in Helsinki making new film friends from the Finnish National Audiovisual Archive and seeing some of the sights of the city. Then I took the hour long flight north to Rovaniemi (some 600miles from Helsinki) where I was met with a car that then takes you on a 90 minute road journey, even further north above the Arctic Circle to the small town of Sodankylä where the festival has been held each year since 1986.
I have been attending the Midnight Sun Film Festival every year since my first visit and it remains a highlight for me as well as one of the most honest and true film festivals that I’ve attended. The festival runs for five days over four venues in a small one-street town in the middle of nowhere where the sun shines 24 hours a day. People travel from all over to visit the festival, along with many families bringing their children. There are no big red carpet events, big sponsored events, after-show parties etc; its all about the film going experience and bringing people together to share their passion of film.
As well as being director of this festival with the Kaurismäki brothers, Aki and Mika – Peter is also creative director of the Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna each year. I have been fortunate enough to attend this film festival too now for several years and sample its incredibly impressive line-up of rare screenings.
Peter von Bagh is one of the kindest and most generous gentlemen that you could ever hope to meet. His knowledge of film is second to none and often during a conversation with him, he will just come out with a quote from a film and ask you to name the film, I fail most times in getting it right, much to his amusement!
Peter has written over 40 books on film which have been published in many languages, but sadly not one of them yet has been published in english. I am currently working on trying to rectify this as firmly believe there is an audience out there that would benefit greatly from reading and enjoying them. He has also made well over 60 films, predominantly documentaries and one feature film, The Count (1971)
I feel both very lucky and honoured to be able to call Peter a friend, and to have worked closely with him over the past few years where I have learned a great deal from my mentor.
This weekend in Helsinki at the Cinema Orion a special two day event is taking place to honour Peter’s 70th birthday and his life in film. A book entitled Citizen Peter has been written by Antti Alanen and Olaf Möller which is being launched at the event along with several speakers talking about their work with Peter and some of his films being screened: http://www.kava.fi/esitykset/orionin-syksy-2013/peter-von-bagh/citizen-peter-seminaari-14-1592013