What is your professional background? How did you end up working in filmmaking?
I’m a screenwriter and documentarian who graduated from the Department of Film. I got into the industry late. I was in my thirties when a friend took me to the DocPoint festival. I had never seen a creative documentary film, and I didn’t even know anyone who worked in the cultural industry. My friend went home, and I stayed to watch the films. On Sunday, as the credits of the last film of the festival were rolling, I realised that some people do this for a living. It was a done deal – I quit my corporate job, joined Mouka Filmi as an intern and soon started shooting my first documentary.
I didn’t want to enrol in film school; I wanted to learn by doing. For a long time, I worked as a production manager, first assistant director and line producer on feature documentary and fiction productions. At the same time, I was also making my own films, knocking on doors, trying out different jobs and just drifting around.
Screenwriting finally forced me to enter film school. I thought that I’d be grey and wrinkled before I had time to learn everything if I kept writing and studying screenwriting on my own while working on productions. When I got into studying screenwriting, I stopped doing production work.
During our studies, I directed the short documentary Keuliminen – Ride of Passage together with screenwriter and director Vilja Autiokyrö. Even though I hadn’t made documentaries for a long time, the connections that had been brewing inside me were finally somehow ready. I found my own voice and authorship as a documentarian while making that film.
Since graduating, I have taught screenwriting in addition to my work as a screenwriter and director. I am also the newly elected Chair of the Writers Guild of Finland.
How did you decide to apply for Kehittämö, and what are your expectations for the programme?
I felt like Kehittämö was tailor-made for my documentary, Mootrix. Mootrix is being filmed almost entirely outside Finland. It is also quite experimental and does not represent the most traditional narrative form. I had been developing Mootrix in our documentary film collective Antares, had received scriptwriting support from the Finnish Film Foundation and a travel grant from Taike, and had already made my first preliminary research trip to the Netherlands.
Kehittämö came along at the perfect time in terms of the choice of production company as well. Of course, a director always wants to have all the support and resources available for their film, but on a project this big, financially supported time for artistic development with the producers and our international mentor, Gitte Hansen, is both mandatory and ideal.
Tell us more about your project – how did you decide on the subject and what is the work about?
I saw a news item about VR glasses designed for cows’ heads and eyesight, which were tested on a dairy farm near Moscow. The glasses were used to test whether the virtual experience of green summer pastures could influence the milk production of cows in the middle of the coldest winter. It was at that moment that I came up with the basic idea of a film about a cow living and kept happy in a “matrix”. For a long time I tried to shake the idea out of my mind, but it seemed that every time I mentally looked over my shoulder, there was the cow with the VR glasses on, standing in a snowy field – waiting. It was as if the cow was looking not only at the virtual reality but also at me, and I wondered what kind of a time we are living in and what all this says about us humans.
I had previously been the assistant director for a short film shot on a dairy farm with a hundred cows, which is a pretty average number for Finnish dairy farms. Some of the husbandry work was automated, and a drone hovered over the pasture keeping watch. Despite this, the amount of manual work was enormous. When I started researching the modern dairy industry, I found something completely different – a world of gigantic, automated dairy farms that feels more like a science fiction dystopia. The farms are full of data streams, robots, digital technology and machinery. The cow is the biomass of the machinery, while also being a producing individual, tuned to the max by technology, whose happiness is measured.
Mootrix reveals something about us humans and our relationship with digital technology by looking at cows on ultra-modern dairy farms and the machinery that monitors their happiness and efficiency. The film takes us to enormous or otherwise extreme dairy farms around the world: the world’s largest dairy farm of 100,000 cows in China, where cows are milked by robotic rotary milking parlours; a dairy farm in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia, one of the driest places in the world; and an urban farm floating on water in the Dutch port of Rotterdam. The film also follows the “creators of the machinery” – the scientists and inventors – as they develop and test their new innovations.
Because of my background, it was easy for me to slip into this world. I have a master’s degree in economics and minored in environmental management and environmental science. I have also worked for an international automation and robotics corporation in India, Mexico and Finland.
Has Kehittämö so far been what you originally imagined when you applied for the programme? How do you think the process of your own project in Kehittämö has progressed up to this point?
This has been a truly wild experience. I hadn’t realised how much Kehittämö invests in the artistic development of the author and the film. The money granted by Kehittämö is not intended to be used for just rushing into filming.
Of the funding received, 60% must be used for the salaries of the artistic team. This has forced us to slow down, disassemble and reassemble our work. Over and over again. I love our joint sessions with Napafilms producers, Marianne Mäkelä and Liisa Karpo, and our mentor, Gitte Hansen. It is a great privilege to have their brains and hearts involved in this and to develop a film with such a talented team.
A really big, concrete help has been the hiring of a background researcher to assist me. My next background research trip will be to Saudi Arabia. Mootrix is moving forward in many areas and in many directions at the same time. Without the strong team and financial resources, none of this would be possible.
What kinds of topics or themes are you interested in addressing in your works? How would you describe your artistic style, or what kinds of artistic choices inspire you?
I am interested in everything that is humanly skewed, absurd and surreal. In documentaries, this is reflected in a foregrounding and experimental visual style. I want the shots to look like something that can’t realistically be fully perceived with your own eyes. Of course, this can also mean something small, such as framing or association.
I like to get to really know what I’m shooting and then plan most of the shots really carefully. Of course, documentaries often have some parts where this is not entirely possible. I’ve always been interested in the connection with other people, or the lack of it. I’m also interested in extremes and opposites, such as combinations of the unnatural and the natural, or living beings and machines. I am also inspired by landscapes, shapes, different materials and textures, and symmetry.
How do you develop your work and seek new ideas or topics?
There are always themes, ideas and inspirations, but developing them into a film idea often requires a lot of brainwork. Fortunately, being a screenwriter has given me a strong foundation for this.
My friends always laugh at me when I end up conducting in-depth interviews with people. I guess I’m just genuinely interested in how someone or something works or thinks. I’ve been like that since I was a kid – I couldn’t understand why people didn’t tell me what was really going on with them, or why so much was left unsaid. I have travelled, wandered and lived abroad. For me, the work of a screenwriter and documentarian is similar to travelling and living in new places. Because I like it, I also find it very satisfying.
Do you think that there are any particular challenges that fledgling filmmakers face when starting their careers in Finland? What types of challenges? What challenges have you faced as a filmmaker?
Of course there are! Films are expensive to make, few people can make them alone or without funding for very long, and the industry is very competitive. Only a very small minority get into film schools, and very few of those who graduate get to make professionally funded productions. In Finland, there is a desperate shortage of programmes like Kehittämö that focus on new filmmakers and especially their first or second feature films.
We are now waking up to the fact that we need multivoiced stories, narrators and representation, and that there are different paths to becoming a filmmaker – for example, it is acceptable to find your calling a little later in life. When I first entered the industry, my overeager combination of ignorance and fearlessness, coupled with my manual labourer mentality, protected me for a long time. This is no “fair play” industry. The money and resources are so limited that the industry does not want to take too many risks and plays it safe.
What role do you think cooperation between different parties plays in the making of films? How do you see the importance of cooperation between the producer and the director?
Of course, cooperation with the producer is everything, and choosing the right production company has been the most important decision so far. The projects are so long that you should choose people who are fun to work with and with whom it is also safe to face challenges, as these are part of filmmaking.
I wanted a producer who would be strongly involved in the development of the film and who had both dramaturgical and visual narrative skills. Naturally, I also needed a producer with experience in international projects and funding. I value the work of producers enormously. With Liisa and Marianne from Napafilms, our energies and ways of working have matched better than I could have hoped.
Generally and always, you want to work with people you can relate to and be yourself around. Filmmaking is very much about communication. The better you can create a space or a connection where you don’t have to be afraid of messing up or hide who you really are, the better you can create art together.
Kehittämö – Talent Development Lab is a new development programme by AVEK and the Finnish Cultural Foundation, the aim of which is to strengthen the personal voices of the most talented filmmakers of their generation and create new audiovisual works of the highest quality. Authors selected for the programme receive a €55,000 grant to develop their work, as well as personal mentoring from top international professionals in the field.
Kehittämö is made possible with financial support from the Finnish Cultural Foundation, and the programme is implemented by AVEK. Half of the funding for the programme comes from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and half from AVEK’s compensation for private copying.