Iris Olsson • Artistic director, DocPoint
“Documentaries celebrate life”
by Marta Bałaga
- We sat down with the artistic director of DocPoint, Iris Olsson, to see what’s new at this year’s edition of the Finnish festival
Iris Olsson, who has been the artistic director of DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival since 2016, and who previously acted as chairman of the board at the Finnish Documentary Guild, talks to Cineuropa about this year’s edition of the festival, which opened on 29 January with a screening of Rodeo – Taming a Wild Country by Kiur Aarma and Raimo Jõerand.
Now in its 17th edition, DocPoint, one of the largest documentary film festivals in the Nordic countries, will present a vast selection of European titles, including Anna Zamecka’s Communion [+see also:
film profile], Audrius Stonys’ Woman and the Glacier [+see also:
film profile], and Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s Caniba [+see also:
film profile], as well as movies by Danish filmmaker Phie Ambo and Mika Kaurismäki, this year’s recipient of the Aho & Soldan Lifetime Achievement Award.
Cineuropa: Apart from Finnish premieres and special screenings, you also have another interesting category this year – films “made with Finns”.
Iris Olsson: Those are mostly co-productions or films where a Finnish filmmaker has played a significant role. In Scandinavia, we have a long tradition of supporting documentaries, and we are always happy when one of us gets involved in a successful international project. Our filmmakers are currently involved in the production of some of the best documentaries in the world. I just wanted people to know that.
Every year at DocPoint, we give awards to a Finnish documentary filmmaker or an influencer. We have the Apollo Award, which last year went to Eila Ranta, and the Aho & Soldan Lifetime Achievement Award, given to Mika Kaurismäki. Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan, after whom it is named, were Finnish documentary pioneers.
Peter von Bagh mentioned them in his essay documentary Splinters - A Century of an Artistic Family.
Yes, exactly. They would film things like a mill being built or logs in the river. So it was nothing special for their contemporaries, but when you look at it now, it’s art. Mika Kaurismäki was actually surprised by this award – he has directed and produced more than a dozen documentaries but still feels like making them is more an act of passion. Which is not to say that he is not passionate about directing fiction, but it’s a different kind of love. When he was accepting the award, he said that it was something he just stumbled upon – and then just couldn’t let go of.
What were you looking for this year?
I think that the films we are showing reflect our audience’s current interests. They “sting” a little: they present a tough subject matter or pose difficult questions, pushing on our pressure points. That would be this year’s theme, I think. It happened organically because that’s what filmmakers want to explore at the moment as well.
In Finland, we have our problems. But as a small country in Europe, we need to know what’s going on around us. Our audience is aware of that, so it’s important to confront them with films like The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleh Sentsov [+see also:
film profile] – after all, Russia is a neighbouring country of ours. People want to know how they can contribute and make a difference, which might be why we are not afraid to touch on political subjects.
Are there any titles in particular you would like people to notice?
I feel like all of them are here for a reason. I really loved The Work – it’s so simple and strong. Or Over the Limit [+see also:
film profile], which is immensely cinematic, and The Other Side of Everything [+see also:
interview: Mila Turajlić
film profile]. The Distant Barking of Dogs [+see also:
film profile] is beautifully made, too. I have to say one thing: if the film isn’t well made, I am not likely to show it. I will wait for another one that will hopefully handle the subject a bit better. For me, cinematic quality always comes first.
There are so many documentaries on Netflix or other VoD platforms, but it’s important to have festivals that also remind us about the artistic and cinematic quality of documentaries. If they are popular, maybe it will send the right message to the financiers.
After 17 editions, how would you like this festival to develop in the future?
I would love to build it up more as a cultural city event. I would like DocPoint to celebrate life because documentaries do it as well. Watching a documentary is almost akin to getting to know another person, so people – especially younger ones – should feel like they are connecting to others in Helsinki as well, be it through discussions or concerts, also held outside of the cinema. I would love for us to get more funding, so that we could pursue all of these dreams and support documentaries throughout all stages of development: to have the whole cycle, so to speak. For now, we’ve taken part in the Uneton48 filmmaking challenge [organised since 2008], which for the first time in its history has encouraged people to make documentary short films in 48 hours. Every single one of them will be shown at the festival. We have no idea what we are going to see [laughs]!
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