If you were looking for the northern lights last night you would have seen two giant snowballs chasing each other around the sky. It took a few seconds before I was able to dismiss the idea of a UFO and realised they must be lasers. They were, in fact, two streams of light coming from ‘Folkets Hus’, the arts/community centre in the main square. Searching the sky like giant projection rays, they advertise Kiruna’s own ‘Arctic Film Festival’.

It’s an annual event, and a very local one, naturally. Over the coming week there will be several screenings each day. ‘Folkets Hus’ will be alive with people coming and going, catching up with friends and family, and watching a selection of this year’s new films. It’s so local you can offer to be there selling entrance tickets and get yourself free entry to the films.

The programme is what they call ‘an eclectic mix’ from independent and mainstream film makers. There are thrillers, drama, comedy and documentaries. There are films relating to Kiruna and its environment, both historic and current. This year the languages you can hear include Swedish, Finnish, English, French, German, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, Indonesian, Flemish, Thai, and the most universal language of all, silence. The selection reflects Kiruna’s largely outward-looking attitude, while also reflecting a sense of it’s place in the world.

Last night we saw ‘Ingen Riktig Finne’ (or ‘Finnish Blood, Swedish Heart’ in the English distribution), a documentary/drama about a Finnish man and his father who go on a road trip back to Sweden where they lived in the ’70s. It highlights the stereotypes of Finnish and Swedish cultures, and expresses how hard it is, particularly for children and young people, to be moved from one culture to another, never really settling. It includes musical interludes of songs from that time, delivered with a keen sense of longing and the mood of dark tango that characterises some Finnish music. It kept us talking long afterwards about the issues it raised.

Seeing films at the festival is like having a cinema in your own living room. The atmosphere is relaxed, the audience are your neighbours, and after the film ends you can sit there and discuss it for half an hour without being hurried out by the usherette. When you come out, the person who checked your ticket when you went in wants to hear what you thought about the film, and you stand there discussing it with him for five minutes.

We’ll be going back for more this week. It’s a treat, especially for us, who don’t have a television.