I have visited the Helsinki International Film Festival for a few years now. I forget how many, to be honest. The festival has been around since 1988, and I am certainly a newcomer. This year I was fortunate enough to go to many screenings, which makes me feel like I am happily making up for lost time.
Helsinki’s many movie theaters are put to good use during the festival, and there were many sold-out screenings this year. It seems to be going well. The theaters range from very large ones to small, intimate rooms. You get a very good idea of Helsinki’s theaters just by going to see a few interesting films in the programme.
The programme itself is always surprising, which shows that a lot of thought and work is put into it. Curating film festivals is out of my expertise, so I cannot analyze the programme at all. And I never do. It is a pleasure to experience it every year and there are always exciting surprises in the mix. What I can analyze is my reaction to watching the films this year.
During the final film I went to see (a Miles Davis biopic), I noticed I was thinking back to the way television used to make me feel. It was a vague sense of a community somewhere out there. Something I was linked to in some mysterious way even if I never had a good grasp of the way how it all worked. Before I stopped watching television regularly, television served the same purpose. Had I had a more religious upbringing, I might have thought back to church. I did not, but we did have TV.
Festivals like the Helsinki International Film Festival promote cinema, but it is also interesting to think about why cinema needs promoting. It is not my intention to sound blasphemous, but to mark that sense of community that has existed at least since the Greeks invented theater. Theater was a service to the community that gathered around the stage to gain a sense of identity and explore who we are and what we could be. That may sound pompous, but it is also an answer to why theater exists in the first place. Television seems a bit too alien these days and online communities are much too fractured. The theater is the real deal, but it can be overwhelming. The cinema feels like a suitable modern compromise. It is a place where you can play the tapes of the day, find out something new about yourself and, more importantly, about the people with whom you share your city.