April 14, 2020

FIVE FROM FINLAND: Film directors

couple watching TV
Finnish film is being featured in more and more living rooms.
Adobe/tynyuk

Finnish cinema has been reaching a growing audience on screens around the world in recent years thanks to these film directors.

Aki Kaurismäki may very well be the most recognised Finnish director abroad, but he is far from the be-all and end-all for the local film scene.

Selma Vilhunen

This Academy Award-nominated director and screenwriter made her full-length debut in 2016 with Little Wing. The heart-warming tale made an impact on screens from Toronto to Belgrade. In 2017, her documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution did as its title suggests: made waves worldwide with its depiction of the Finnish youngsters’ hobby. In 2019, Vilhunen made headlines after her edgy drama Stupid Young Heart won the Crystal Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Now, amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Vilhunen is giving everyone a much-needed relief with the premiere of a new 10-episode series she co-directed with Kirsikka Saari, Carpe Fucking Diem. The series is centred around two women in their thirties deciding to have the best time of their lives.

“I think the topic of our series is very on point,” Vilhunen said in a recent interview. “After all, this is the time that makes many people think about what they really want from life. The characters are forced to stop their daily routines too, and then they want to re-evaluate their lives. It can resonate with a lot of people right now.”

Klaus Härö

Seven films into his career, Härö has won over 60 awards, including the Ingmar Bergman Award. Providing Finland’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film on four occasions, he became recognised worldwide for his sensitive and thoughtful output in 2015’s The Fencer.

Following on the success, Häro’s One Last Deal premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2018 and was warmly received by the public, press and distributors alike. Reflecting his inclination for humane themes, the director’s latest movie, Life after Death, was inspired by the time when his mother passed away. The tragicomic film had its domestic release in March 2020.

One of the most acclaimed Finnish directors, Härö puts his hands together for the local cinematic scene that has its own peculiar flavour.

“Among Finnish directors, there is a feeling of mutual respect,” he said. “There is a really big thirst to throw yourself in, make contact and find co-workers and develop as film-makers.”

Dome Karukoski

Balancing Nordic and American sensibilities, Karukoski broke onto the international stage with his fifth feature, Tom of Finland. After that, he set his sights on helming a J.R.R. Tolkien biopic. Released in 2019, Tolkien received mixed reviews from critics and, sadly, was not a commercial success.

His new project, as he recently revealed, is a five-episode American-English series that he is working on with US production company New Regency. The work, however, is temporarily on hold due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Meanwhile, Karukoski is keeping himself busy writing a couple of movie scripts touching on such issues as school bullying and more.

We asked Karukoski back in 2016 what he thinks makes Finnish films so special. “Their black humour,” he said. “It’s so black, foreign people often don’t understand the funny parts. One of my most popular films, Lapland Odyssey, starts with five suicides. It’s a comedy.”

Katja Gauriloff

First catching global attention with the 2012 documentary Canned Dreams, this documentary film-maker followed it up with 2016’s Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest, a fairytale set in the land of the Skolt Sami people near the Arctic Circle. Narrated by the director’s great-grandmother, the film was recognised with a number of accolades, including the grand prize at the Northern Character Film & TV Festival in Murmansk.

“I’m very surprised and flattered by the award,” the director said at the time. “It’s great that a film about Skolt Sami legends and history has been acknowledged in such a wonderful way in Russia.”

After trying her hand at fiction film production with Baby Jane in 2019, Gauriloff is on a mission to introduce the culture to an even wider audience, working on what is set to be the world’s first Skolt Sami fiction film. She has been writing the script, with the working title of Je’vida, since last year and, if everything goes as planned, the production will start before the end of 2020.

Jesse Haaja

Never give up on your dreams – Finland’s first superhero film, Rendel, is living proof of this. A decade-and-a-half into a marketing career, this director turned to the sketches of his youth after an unfortunate turn of events. It was time to learn by doing.

“I had a vision, but no knowledge or experience,” he confessed in 2017, just before the film was released in some 40 global markets. “I was pursuing my dream and didn’t have time to stop and think. The only thing that saved me was that I had no idea what I was doing.”

The Finnish superhero is set to return to big screens, as Haaja started shooting the second part of the film in the autumn of 2019 – this time with a bigger crew, more shooting locations, more advanced equipment and techniques, and even more daring stunts.

Originally published in April 2018. Updated in April 2020

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