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“When you are making a movie about yourself, you never really stop working on it”

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Einari Paakkanen • Director

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- Finnish filmmaker Einari Paakkanen's directorial debut My Father from Sirius, about his father’s belief in UFOs, had its world premiere at the 32nd Warsaw Film Festival

Einari Paakkanen • Director

Fitting in with the trend of personal documentary filmmaking in the recent years, My Father from Sirius [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Einari Paakkanen
film profile
]
, a debut by the Finnish filmmaker Einari Paakkanen that explores his father’s belief in UFOs and spiritual healing, is a funny and moving portrait of a person’s obsession, as experienced by their loved ones. Having had its world premiere in the Documentary Competition of the 32nd Warsaw Film Festival, the film is the courageously sincere documentation of an intimate relationship between a son and his father. The latter considers himself spiritually enlightened, and his son must undertake an emotionally trying quest for independence. Cineuropa spoke with the director after the film premiered in Warsaw.

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How did you decide to make such a personal film?
It’s about the process of becoming independent, of gaining independence from your parents. It’s easy to believe in spiritual things and UFOs and things like that as a child, but there is a time when you start to question everything, and then you create distance; you move away from your parents and you start to see things differently.

Did your family perceive it as an invasion into their private life?
My father was OK with it, but my mother took some convincing. I had to cut some parts out, but not because of my family. One example of this is when my father was healing a young banker. He had cancer, and my father was healing him. I thought it would fit in the film really nicely, but he didn’t allow it because of his reputation. In Finland, you can’t work at the bank and publicly tell people that you believe in spirits or spiritual healing.

How did the fact that you were so emotionally involved in the story influence your filmmaking?
It would be very different if someone else was doing it, of course. When you are making a movie about yourself, you never really stop working on it. There are no office hours. I was even working on the movie in my dreams, when I went to sleep and before I woke up. It takes a lot of energy. But in my family, and, I think, more generally in Finland, for some reason, there is this huge gap between the generations. In a way, I have already lost my grandparents, I never got to know their life so well, so I thought I can’t make the same mistake with my parents. I really had to have this talk with them. But I couldn’t have done it without directing the film myself – I would never have started to ask these questions. In a way, it brought us closer – my mother and I are really close now. Although it was different with my father and we’re a little bit more distant – We don’t share the spiritual world anymore, so something got lost. But I think that’s all healthy and natural, cutting the cord between yourself and your parents. It’s basically growing up.

To what extent were you influenced by pop-culture, especially science fiction?
E. T. was one of my favourite movies, so was The Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which I would always watch with my father. The X-files, too. It was strange – we were watching it together, every episode, and then, suddenly, everything from the TV show became real, in a way.

Why are Finns so good at documentaries?
I’d definitely say documentaries are a Finnish strong point. It comes from the personal approach to a subject and the need to tell your own stories. There are a lot of personal stories in Finnish cinema, in which the filmmaker is even one of the characters in the movie. I think my film is different only in the subject matter. There’s been one UFO documentary made in the 1990s, but it didn’t take a personal approach to the topic. I think my film is really unique in that sense. When I’ve been talking to people interested in the new-age, UFOs, healing and all of those things, they’ve been really happy that someone is finally making a UFO documentary in Finland.

And I think Finns are really peculiar – you can basically pick out anyone on the street and make a documentary about them. Perhaps it’s living in this schizophrenic environment where winter is so long and dark, and summer is bright, short and warm. It must have some kind of effect. I also think that documentary filmmakers make their films even if they don’t get the money to do it, and I think that makes a difference, too.

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