What is your professional background? How did you end up working in filmmaking?
My father had a photography studio in my home town of Nykarleby, and later he worked as a photography teacher, so I was exposed to photography through him from an early age.
I graduated in 2006 from Yrkeshögskolan Novia (then Svenska Yrkeshögskolan) as Bachelor of Culture and Arts with a specialisation in film editing. Since then, I have worked mainly as an editor on various TV productions, both entertainment and documentaries.
However, I started thinking about directing already during those bachelor studies, and the idea grew stronger when I moved to Tallinn in 2018 to study documentary filmmaking at Baltic Film, Media and Arts School for two years. From my teacher, film director Kersti Uibo, I learned that filmmaking is a deeply human business and you do it with your heart rather than technique and theory. It is also good to have some imperfections. In line with these teachings, I also completed my Master of Arts degree work, the medium-length documentary film Samarbeit, which premiered at DocPoint in 2020.
Of all genres of film, documentaries have always been the closest to my heart. What makes documentary film fascinating is that it allows me to ask questions important to me, together with the world, and that I don’t have to know at the beginning of the journey where it will lead. For me, documentary film is a way of being and structuring the world. Pirjo Honkasalo’s films made a profound impression on me back in the day. They made me realise that film can be about more than just storytelling – that they can be used to touch and be touched by reality.
How did you decide to apply for Kehittämö, and what are your expectations for the programme?
I had just started the first preliminary shooting of the documentary film Kuinka kuolemme when I heard about the programme from a colleague in the industry. The programme sounded interesting and just the thing for me, especially as I had a budding project in its early stages and the synergies were aligned.
Having studied abroad, I was unfamiliar with domestic documentary film production and financing practices, which is why the mentoring and help in finding a production company provided by the programme were of particular interest to me. Without Kehittämö, I would probably not have met my producer Isabella Karhu or my Scottish mentor Grant Keir, whose help feels invaluable already at this stage. Kehittämö’s support structures and funding also provide time and security for the artistic process and allow the project room to grow and find its potential. I hope that Kehittämö will help me develop my artistic expression, find good new team members and prepare the project for production.
What are the things you want to develop specifically in your own work?
I want to learn to trust my own intuition at different stages of filmmaking and let it guide the artistic process and my way of working. At the moment, this manifests itself as an attempt to stop overthinking projects and instead learn to trust the process and not feel the need to know exactly what you are doing when you start. I also want to learn to work better with others, recognise my own weaknesses and learn to trust the strengths of others.
Tell us more about your project – how did you decide on the subject and what is the work about?
The central theme of the film is death and the question of how to be around it. It draws on experiences from my youth of how difficult it was to be around the impending death of a close relative. There seems to be no language or method for that, either for myself or collectively.
The subject came up again some years ago, when a friend of mine spent their last weeks in a hospice. I was impressed by the atmosphere of the place. It seemed extraordinary that a place where someone died almost every day could have such a great and warm atmosphere. There, the mundane and the sacred seemed to fit into the same space. I also became interested in the people who dedicated their lives to making sure that someone else could die as well as possible.
I applied to volunteer at a hospice in 2018, but the biennial volunteer training had already started at the time. Then came the pandemic, and it was only in the autumn of 2022 that I was able to start training with 22 other volunteers. The idea of a film on the subject arose some years earlier, but it was only when I started the volunteer training that I felt that it would be interesting to make the film from the perspective of the volunteers. Unlike nurses and doctors, the volunteers have no professional expertise in the field. That’s partly why they are relatable to so many of us. Volunteering is also interesting in a broader sense.
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?
So far, Kehittämö has met and even exceeded my expectations. I was impressed by how strongly the instructors of Kehittämö encouraged me to take my time and develop my artistic expression without pressure to deliver.
I’m sure all artists have an inherent pressure to deliver, which is why such a structure that encourages experimentation is particularly welcome. My approach to documentary filmmaking is one of experimentation and observation. It is based on trust between people, which takes a lot of time to achieve. That’s why this kind of a loose setting suits me very well, and the project is off to a good start so far.
How do you approach the artistic process when you start working on your films?
I think that documentary filmmakers can be divided into two categories. Some look for something out of the ordinary and fascinating and make a film about it. It could be extreme mountaineering, revolutionaries or something else that gets your heart racing. Others are interested in the ordinary and its hidden wonders, such as beach litter pickers or beekeepers. I feel that I fall into this latter category. My experience is that ordinary things start to look peculiar and wonderful when you watch them long enough. Conversely, extraordinary things become ordinary. All sorts of things are revealed about people and places. Depending on the light and seasons, places can change almost completely, and people become visible when you listen to and look at them with warmth. Changing places change people and changing people change places. It’s interesting to observe.
My approach is intuitive and perhaps difficult to define, but I think that it reflects my way of being in the world. Perhaps it’s a bit like a nature photographer who goes into the forest and stays there until the forest animals are no longer scared of him, and only then starts taking pictures. I would feel that I have succeeded if someone sees my film and becomes interested in the ordinary, since that is what most of our lives are, after all.
As I was writing this, I started to think about which category my film’s subject, death, falls into. On the one hand, it’s the most ordinary thing in the world, affecting everyone and everything, but it’s still one of the greatest mysteries of human life. Death is both mundane and mysterious, and it is this aspect that I want to explore.
How do you develop your work and seek new ideas, topics or approaches to your work?
I try to be open, interested in the world and honest. You can always try to be more honest, especially with yourself. The best advice I ever received came from a friend when I was struggling with a grant application years ago. They said: “It doesn’t need to be anything spectacular. Just write what interests you and why you want to do it. You don’t need any fancy rhetoric; they aren’t stupid.” That idea, of being honest about your own interests rather than wondering what someone else might find interesting, really cut a lot of corners.
Stepping outside your own field and exploring multiple disciplines of art helps refresh and nourish your thinking. For example, earlier this year I really enjoyed Maija Blåfield’s exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki. Many of the works fell somewhere on the borderline between experimental and documentary filmmaking and made me question my own internal documentary structures. I particularly soaked up the playfulness in Blåfield’s works and thought a lot about why profundity is so often associated with seriousness.
Listening to music and the images it evokes are also a way for me to activate my creativity and free association. Lately I’ve been listening a lot to Brian Eno’s album ForeverAndEverNoMore. It’s deliciously visual and personal, and beautifully gives voice to non-human creatures such as plants, insects and even star systems. These perspectives feel important at this time of biodiversity loss and climate change. It would be interesting to make a film from a non-human perspective one day.
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?
I’m used to doing a lot of things myself. For example, for my degree work, the medium-length documentary Samarbeit, I did everything except colour grading, sound design and the poster. I tried to edit the poster too, until I got some stern feedback from the graphic designer, which was a good thing. While I’m interested in working with others, I’ve found it natural to do many things myself – perhaps partly because I find it most natural to think with my hands. For example, if I had a camera operator, I wouldn’t know what to do on the set.
For the current project, I’m planning to hire an external editor, which is quite exciting because I’m an editor by training myself. But I think that having more people can bring something to the movie that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. And at its best, working together can be very rewarding.
This is also the first time I’ve had a producer in my own project, so I don’t have a lot of experience in this. I think that the producer’s role is to create the conditions for the director and other team members to concentrate on their work in peace. I also think of the producer as the director’s closest creative team member, whom the director can turn to on any issue.
How do you see the role of networking in filmmaking?
Making a documentary is often rather lonely work. It is invigorating to get to know other authors, exchange thoughts and ideas and feel a sense of belonging in this unconventional profession. Networking can also help you discover new future team members and unexpected opportunities.
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.