Mikko Aromaa • Director, Night Visions
“It’s not just horror, horror, horror”
by Marta Balaga
- With the spring edition of Helsinki’s Night Visions finally here, Cineuropa talks to festival director Mikko Aromaa about the biggest genre-focused film gathering in Scandinavia
Helsinki-based Night Visions, the biggest festival in Scandinavia focusing on fantasy, horror and science fiction, has started unspooling its spring edition. Showcasing 35 features and seven short films, as well as a traditional all-nighter movie marathon, it will end on 14 April, marking the last movie-related event at the iconic Andorra cinema.
Cineuropa: Before we dive into the new edition, what were the beginnings of the festival like? And what is the origin of its crazy name?
Mikko Aromaa: This festival has an identity of its own, and it actually has a lot to do with how it all started – with a group of people working for a fanzine called Gorehound. In 1996, we began talking about starting our own festival. We published four times a year, and there was a newsletter mailed out quarterly, so there were different options to promote it to the potential audience and some like-minded people. Of course, we didn’t have any money, and everything was running on steam and passion, but it felt like a safe bet. Then the first edition turned out to be a success, starting at 11pm on Saturday and wrapping up around 11am on Sunday. This idea of an all-nighter, that’s where it all started. It’s not as hip and cool to sit in a cinema all night any more, but it’s a tradition we still want to hold onto. There is this core community that founded it and got others to support what we were doing. And it’s still there, even though the numbers have increased, the generations have changed and there aren’t that many old-timers like me left any more.
The idea of having two editions per year, was that always the case?
We started doing it already in our second year. We got a chance to work with a bigger venue called Maxim, and we realised we had to get some bigger films. That’s when the autumn edition around Halloween was born, but we wanted to maintain the identity of a festival of the weird and the underground. The solution was to arrange a separate event in the spring, focusing precisely on that. We still call the autumn edition Maximum Halloween, and in the spring it’s still Back to Basics – even though, as you know, the identities of the two are now very similar.
You usually have this mixture of the old and the new; forgotten gems alongside more recent titles. How did you decide on that?
The main motivation for building a programme like that was the lovely tradition of film censorship in Finland. Even in the late 1990s, there were so many films that had never been shown on the big screen. Most horrors were originally banned! So there was an entire genre that was never available to the general public. In 1997, one of our headliners was Deep Throat. It was completely forbidden to distribute hardcore porn up until 2001, so the only way to get around it was to put together a festival. You would apply for a special permit from the Ministry of Education, send them a fax with a list of films and they would never interfere [laughs].
How do you see people’s reactions to this kind of cinema now? Is it still treated as a joke?
There are still many presumptions about genre film – among lots of people, including journalists and those in a position of power. Of course, 20 years ago, you couldn’t have imagined that the Finnish Film Foundation would ever give a penny to films like Iron Sky [+see also:
interview: Tero Kaukomaa
interview: Timo Vuorensola
interview: Timo Vuorensola
film profile], Rare Exports [+see also:
interview: Jalmari Helander
film profile] or Lake Bodom [+see also:
film profile]. But there is still a hell of a lot to do because even though some local journalists are forced to write about us now that we have become so big, you can just smell the attitude. It’s frustrating because we have been actively expanding the spectrum in terms of the programming. We can play an edgy drama or a documentary like Midnight Family, about a privatised ambulance business in Mexico City, which we are now showing alongside the Ulrich Seidl-produced The Children of the Dead [+see also:
interview: Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška
film profile], Johannes Nyholm’s Koko-di Koko-da [+see also:
interview: Johannes Nyholm
film profile] and Black Circle, with Christina Lindberg coming back to the big screen after almost 40 years. It’s a message that we have been trying to put out for years: “Hey, morons – go and check out our line-up!” It’s not just horror, horror, horror. But a certain number of prejudiced people refuse to listen.
You already celebrated Christina at the festival in 2017. I imagine that was a rather special moment?
There were so many, like when inviting John Waters finally panned out. I remember driving to the airport, my palms sweating. He turned out to be the best festival guest ever, hanging out in bars, meeting the fans and chatting to all these drunken Finnish people. We had Crispin Glover once, and that was the first time we had to hire some extra security. In Helsinki – come on! These goddamn autograph-hunter nerds were after him all the time. He asked who we would like to have that could be “like him”. I said, “John Waters,” and he replied: “I’m having dinner with him in Baltimore next week, and I’ll definitely speak highly of you.” We owe a lot to Crispin.
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