Cinema Features



One hundred years back saw the light the very first Finnish produced
movie: Salaviinanpolttajat (Bootleggers) by Louis Sparre and Teuvo
. Little is known about this film because not even still pictures
are preserved and its plot is only known on the basis of newspapers
advertisements. It dealt with themes that remain dear to the country:
alcohol, the sense of guilt surrounding it and the pain of human

he oldest Finnish movie completely preserved, Ollin oppivuodet (Olli's
Apprenticeship), also directed by Teuvo Puro, is from 1920. At that
time Finland saw the rise of its first movie stars. Some of them
migrated to Hollywood, like Taina Elg or Maila Nurmi, who was the star
of Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space and became popular as the tv
character of Vampira in the 1950s. Locally, the legendary Suomi-Filmi
replicated the studio system of Hollywood.

But the international breakthrough of Finnish cinema didn’t come until
the 1980s, when a generation of filmmakers led by Aki and Mika, the
Kaurismäki brothers, achieved international success. Famous Renny
also belongs to this generation. He took a different path and
became a Hollywood director with outstanding films like The Adventures
of Ford Farlaine
or participating in the sequels of Die Hard, An Elm
Street Nightmare

But new directors, producers and writers have blossomed since. In the
2000s, Finnish films present new themes to new audiences. Finnish
cinema enjoys a noticeable popularity locally, but the industry still
suffers from a limited target group and wants a better subsidy system.

During the first weekend of October, three Finnish films had over 49%
of the Top Ten films’ audience. The chart’s number one was JP Siili’s
film Ganes. This is the story of rise of the Hurriganes, the popular
rock’n’roll band in the 70’s and the first Finnish group to achieve
international recognition. Produced by Aleksi Bardy’s Helsinki-Filmi,
Ganes is a true Finnish blockbuster, supported by a big scale marketing
campaign; within two weeks of its premiere the film counted more than
75,000 admissions – not a bad number for a small country like Finland.
In 2006, the most watched movie was a Finnish production – Matti, the
life story of the living sport legend Matti Nykänen – movie saw by over
460,000 spectators. The second and third places were the American
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (458,833 spectators) and
Casino Royale (368,621 spectators).

In the recent years, the market share of Finnish movies has increased
from a 17% in 2004 to a 24% last year, when three domestic films
appeared in the Top Ten. Ironically, the most internationally reputed
Finnish director, Aki Kaurismäki, although a Cannes Festival winner,
performs very poorly at the local box office. To his latest film,
Laitakaupungin valot (Lights in the Dusk) only 38,000 spectators in
Finland considered worthy to go, just few more than the extreme stunts
film The Dudesons Movie.

A new generation of directors and writers are bringing in new themes to
the domestic productions. Joona Tena achieved great success with the
romantic comedy FC Venus (2005), Aleksi Salmenperä brought to the
screen the taboo of male prostitution in Miehen työ (A Man’s Job,
2006). Since his controversial and popular debut film Levottomat
(Restless, 2000), Aku Louhimies offered a new look at the actual
Finnish society, especially through his acclaimed movie Paha Maa
(Frozen Land). A modern look that reflects a contemporary society that
goes beyond the traditional values, but still drags long standing
problems like booze and solitude.

{mosimage}Sure values and the producer’s nose

A sure value at the box office are movies dealing with the Finnish
national identity or Finnish heroes – among the latest local hits are
the biographies of Jean Sibelius (Sibelius, 2003), ski jumper and
celebrity Matti Nykänen (Matti, 2006) and the story of one of the best
known gangs, the Dalton brothers of Finland, in Aleksi Mäkelä’s Pahat
(Bad Boys, 2003). The next Finnish heroes to reach the silver
screen will be Lordi. Dark Floors – The Lordi Motion Picture is to come
out in February 2008. The movie is not the story of the band, but an
American-style thriller based on the idea of the Lordi singer, and
where the band play the music and appear in the movie.

The man behind the last four years hits is the producer Markus Selin:
the Levottomat trilogy, Matti, Valkoinen kaupunki (Frozen City, 2006)
or this year’s V2 – Jäätynyt enkeli (V2 – Dead Angel). He also produced
one of the first films of Renny Harlin, Jäätävä polte (Born America,
1985), which was at the time the most expensive Finnish film ever done
with a budget of 16,7 million Finnish mark (around 2,8 million euro).

So what does it take to make a Finnish hit? To know your audience,
answers Markus Selin: “You have to keep the public in mind when you
choose the topic, especially in the script development phase”, he says.
“There are, of course, no short cuts to make a blockbuster, but I
believe that audiences always smell good movies, the ones made with the
right mix of talent and best possible ingredients”.

But Helsinki is not Hollywood and apart of the few blockbusters, there
are a number of productions struggling to attract an audience. The
situation is not easy in a country where only 12 movies are produced a
year and compete with more than 100 new releases from United States.
Budgets are not very high and the market is small due to the language.
“That is our biggest difficulty”, tells Selin. “The language limits the
financing possibilities from other countries. The Finnish Film
Foundation lacks decent funds, as the movie industry is not respected
enough. If it would be treated right by politicians, our industry could
be a big export”. With around 3,000 people employed, Finnish cinema
industry depends greatly on state support.

The Finnish Film Fundation, Suomen Elokuvasäätiö (SEA), is responsible
of the support and development of Finnish film production, distribution
and exhibition. It is an independent foundation which is supervised by
the Department for Cultural Policy in the Ministry of Education. The
SEA funds 10 to 12 movies per year. The resources for these grants
usually come from the lottery funds. According to the SEA, the average
budget of a Finnish film is 1,4 million euro, which includes around
500.000 euro from the SEA.

{mosimage}Producers go on strike

But for producers this support is not enough. In September, Finnish
producers decided to go on strike and not to start any new projects
after the Minister of Culture Stefan Wallin broke his promise to
increase funding by 1,2 million euro for the next year. In the 2008
budget, instead of the promised 8%, the increase is plain zero.
Producers argue that this is a stupid position because “the money used
to make one film returns to the state, in the form of taxes from sold
tickets and salaries, sometimes even as much as double of the invested

They are also angry because while film subvention got a 0% increase,
the support for the National Opera raised with 1 million euro. The
Opera receives from the state budget 50 million, while the film
industry receives 13,5 million euro. Film producers declared themselves
“annoyed by the fact that the state supports 20 times more an opera
ticket than a cinema ticket”. Comparing tickets sales and state
support, for every opera ticket sold there is a support granted of 160e.

Producer and writer Aleksi Bardy sums up the present disappointment:
“In spite of the fact that the Finnish Film industry has been blooming
for the past eight years with better movies, new audiences and larger
exportations, politicians haven’t kept their promises. We producers
consider that it has become impossible to make films in Finland.” Of
course, he and the rest of the producers are aware that this attitude
can breed a bad image of the Finnish cinema among the public. “It is a
matter of survival. We risk to damage our image, but the other option
is that the Finnish film industry dies without enough resources”, Bardy

The statement released by Finnish producers has been well received by
the rest of the industry. The SEA does not have an official opinion,
but recognizes “the need to increase public funding for film to the
level existent in other Nordic countries.” For the Ministry of
Education and Culture it is “a strong statement and it is evaluated as
such”. From the Ministry it is also claimed that “since 2000 the
increase has been 63%”, although it also admits that “the subsidies for
film production in Finland are smaller than for example in other Nordic

The Finnish Chamber of Films, which represents The Finnish Film
Distributors’ Association and The Finnish Cinema Exhibitors’
Association, has also showed its support to the producers. Tero
Koistinen, executive director of The Finnish Cinema Exhibitors’
Association complains that “In Finland, there are about 200 cinemas,
most of which located in small towns and rural centres. Their survival
is largely dependent on Finnish movies. Due to the weak funding of the
Finnish film industry, some 50 small towns and communities are
constantly on the verge of losing their cinemas”.

Since the beginning of this conflict, Minister Stefan Wallin has
expressed his willingness to find an increase in subsidies for the film
industry. From the Ministry of Education and Culture, senior advisor
Leena Laaksonen explains that “an indication of the strong will is the
present (2007-2011) Government Programme that explicitly mentions the
will for increasing the subsidies for film production during the four
years of this Government. The Minister for Culture has clearly told
that his intention is to carry out what is said in the Government
Programme. The bill for 2008 budget is for the moment being dealt with
by the Parliament. It will be ready for Christmas”.

The strike has been effective. Already in early November, a solution
seems near. Producers have ended the strike based on the confidence
that a better allocation of the lottery funds will occur in 2008. This
means that that film production and distribution should get an increase
of 4,149,000 euro in 2008, and that the government should commit itself
to a plan to increase the overall film support to 27 million euro by
2011, as stated in the government programme. The managing director of
the SEA, Irina Krohn, has already promised that the maximum funding to
a film will increase from 700,000 euro to 840,000.

Markus Selin draws also other positives consequences from this
conflict: “The producers strike is good for the Finnish film industry
because it has raised a lot of questions regarding the bad shape of
film financing. It has also put all the major producers on the same
line and has brought the industry closer”.

For many foreigners living in Finland, Finnish cinema is greatly
unknown. However, although the cinemas don’t show the films with
subtitles in English or other language, nowadays DVD and festivals do.
A good starting point is a little museum in Helsinki, almost hidden in
Sörnäinen area, that preserves the history of Finnish cinema (Elävän
kuvan museo), full of posters, photos, old projectors, cameras and
films… A joy for movie lovers. Unfortunately, it is under
reconstruction until next September. Meanwhile… lights, camera, action!

Leave a Reply