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Fans Flock to Lapland for Offbeat Cinema Fest

The Midnight Sun Film Festival, which opens on Wednesday in northern Finland, has again drawn a fascinating range of directors, critics and cinema buffs from around the world. This year's guests of honour hail from Iran, Russia, the United States and Italy.

The Midnight Sun Film Festival was founded 20 years ago by several Finnish directors including the Kaurismäki brothers, Aki and Mika. The event takes place in Sodankylä, about 120 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, which is now during its period of 'nightless nights' with sunshine -- and film screenings -- around the clock. The gathering is known for its casual, cosy atmosphere and a spirit of fun. The Kaurismäkis, who have won scores of international awards, have been able to attract many of the world's top directors to appear at the festival through their personal contacts. Over the years these have included masters such as Ettore Scola, Terry Gilliam, Wim Wenders and Francis Ford Coppola. This year's speakers include US director Carroll Ballard, best known for The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home and Iran's Jafar Panahi, who has collaborated with the legendary Abbas Kiarostami on films such as The White Balloon. Also on the bill are Italy's Gian Vittorio Baldi, Russian director, actor and screenwriter Andrei Smirnov, German director Isabelle Stever and Spanish filmmaker Mercedes Álvarez. Last-minute additions to the screening schedule include new films by two previous Sodankylä guests: Nanni Moretti's Il Caimano, a satire of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi which drew much attention at Cannes this year, as well as Jonathan Demme's rockumentary Neil Young: Heart of Gold.

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