August 24, 2015

Klaus Härö finds communal strength in Finnish films

The Fencer has been one of the most successful films of the year in Finland and Estonia.
The Fencer has been one of the most successful films of the year in Finland and Estonia.

For this acclaimed director, the art of collaboration is an important stepping-stone towards wider success for the local industry.

Growing up as an only child in the small town of Porvoo, some 50 kilometres from Helsinki, Klaus Härö was obsessed with movies. While his friends enjoyed watching films on home video, young Härö could often be found at the local cinema, his father unconvinced by the merits of VHS technology.

“Seeing a film for me was in itself an enterprise,” he recalls. “I would read about a film and I would want to see it, but it would usually take a year or two before I would be sitting in a cinema experiencing it, so it was very good training for me. It really felt like a reward. This is very close to what I am doing today as a filmmaker.”

For each of his five feature films to date, Härö has drawn on the admiration of Scandinavian directors he cultivated during those many hours alone staring in wonderment at the silver screen. In fact, such is his reverence of their arthouse sensibilities that he made his first three features in Sweden. For him, cinema was alive in Finland’s neighbouring countries to the west.

But the south? That was uncharted territory.

“I never would have imagined finding myself in Estonia making a film,” Härö states. Having previously never set foot in the country, this attitude abruptly changed a few years ago when he was handed the script of The Fencer. Some 15 pages in to the tale of a young Estonian fencer who flees to his homeland in the 1950s, with the Russian secret police in pursuit, “I thought this story is so brilliant, so cinematic. I’d love to do it.”

Many have agreed. His beautifully shot film has been very well received in Finland and Estonia, with murmurs of Oscar talk coinciding with a growing number of glowing reviews. The word has begun spreading abroad: Hollywood industry bible Variety described The Fencer as a “well-acted, smoothly crafted drama” and the film was bestowed with the Bernhard Wicki Award at the Munich International Film Festival in July.

Collaborative spirit

Klaus Härö accepted the Bernard Wicki Award for The Fencer in July.

Klaus Härö accepted the Bernard Wicki Award for The Fencer in July.

Bernhard Wicki Gedächtnis Fonds e.V. / Oliver Bodmer

However, rather than bask solo in the spotlight amidst such enthusiastic accolades, Härö is adamant that he share it with his co-workers.

“This was perhaps the biggest thing for me to learn as a filmmaker,” the only child reflects. “Film is really all about working with other people.”

Härö emphasises his willingness to consider suggestions from his crew at all stages of the creative process, something that reflects the attitude shared by the filmmaking community as a whole in Finland. It’s not unheard of to find Härö visiting the editing suites of fellow directors such as Aku Louhimies and Dome Karukoski, offering suggestions to help bring their films to completion. This process is duly reciprocated.

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

By embracing this spirit of collaboration, the tight-knit community of the Finnish industry seeks to export local tales to wider international audiences. The goal is to emulate the success enjoyed by smaller countries such as Israel and Romania on the cinematic world stage, with their own particular, peculiar Finnish flavour.

“We have this local touch,” he explains. “We have this modesty, downgrading yourself; this oddball humour and pessimism on the surface, but some stubborn optimism – just don’t show it. These are unique features for Finns and they will make for funny and intriguing stories.”

Humble success

Sitting amidst the morning bustle of a downtown Helsinki café, Härö is engaging company, infusing the conversation with dashes of humour and acute self-awareness. All the while his humility remains steadfast, even as his latest sensitive and thought-provoking success continues to stand tall amidst the steady hum of blockbusters assaulting the box office.

“I always grew up thinking that if I ever get to make films, probably no one is going to watch them except my mum and dad – and dad’s going to be asleep. I am always surprised and flattered that people have seen my films.”

Klaus Härö (front) and the producers of The Fencer, Kaarle Aho and Kai Nordberg.

Klaus Härö (front) and the producers of The Fencer, Kaarle Aho and Kai Nordberg.

Mari Laukkarinen

Text: James O’Sullivan

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