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Maria Pirkkalainen • Producer, Finnish Film Affair

“I want to bring more ‘Love & Anarchy’ into the industry”

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- Cineuropa caught up with the new producer of the Finnish Film Affair, Maria Pirkkalainen, to discuss this year’s edition of the event

Maria Pirkkalainen  • Producer, Finnish Film Affair

Following the departure of Laura Laaksonen, named executive director of the Tampere Film Festival, Maria Pirkkalainen took over the industry event of the Helsinki International Film Festival – Love & Anarchy. Established in 2012, this year the Finnish Film Affair showcased nearly 50 Finnish films and welcomed over 400 professionals between 17 and 19 September, with the Best Project Award – sponsored by the Finnish Film Foundation, and given out by Stine Bomholt-Hansen of LevelK, Tom Abell of Peccadillo Pictures and Norwegian Film Festival in Haugesund’s Gyda Velvin Myklebust – going to Aamu Film Company’s Oasis of Now. The story of a family asking for asylum in Finland will be Finnish-Iranian director Hamy Ramezan’s first feature.

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Cineuropa: The festival’s executive director, Anna Möttölä, recently said she would like to keep the Finnish Film Affair “intimate”. But how do you see its future?
Maria Pirkkalainen: What makes this event great is that everything is very compact, but there are still new things we can do around it. The main goal is for people to come and meet the Finnish film industry, sure, but I would like to bring more “Love & Anarchy” into it. That’s the name of the festival, so how do we bring it to the industry as well? Perhaps by developing the panels and creating something that would give us more of a profile, or organise them all around a certain theme.

There was more diversity in the line-up this year, from the winning project Oasis of Now to Ramin Sohrab’s Layers of Lies and the Somali-centred Khadar’s Ghost. Does this reflect the interests of the Finnish film industry?
I started after the selection was already completed, but it was certainly exciting that out of the eight “fiction in progress” titles, two were directed by filmmakers with an Iranian background this year. I felt that in general, the line-up was a good combination of first-time feature directors and more established talent, like Antti J Jokinen [presenting the upcoming biopic Helene], for example. The stories were very different, not to mention the fact that we had a lot of female filmmakers. For the first time, we also organised a development clinic with Women in Film & Television Finland.

Given that the festival signed the 5050x2020 gender-parity pledge, is this something you can see happening at the Finnish Film Affair as well?
Excitingly, I think it has already been naturally happening here for the last two or three years. Our key aim is to present projects with international potential, but I feel that it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at these numbers. We are portraying what’s up and coming in Finnish film, and we do have these great female filmmakers and producers. Many films this year had a strong female protagonist – both fictions and documentaries. It’s great that we were able to reflect that. The Finnish Film Affair is for everybody, and it’s important to have different voices out there.

You have been working abroad for the past five years. Do you think this outside perspective can come in handy right now?
For the past few years, I have been working mainly in the UK, for both festivals and distribution [including Independent Cinema Office, the British Film Institute and the Finnish Institute in London]. I have been focusing a lot on marketing as well, and the Finnish Film Affair is obviously a showcase event. I have seen how these things are done and how Finnish film is perceived abroad. There are some movies that we get really excited about in Finland, but do they actually reach other audiences or get picked up for distribution? I think it helps to have a realistic point of view on that. We have such amazing talent, and it’s a pleasure to make these new connections happen, but it’s also about providing very practical skills. It’s crucial to make the Finnish film industry understand the importance of marketing and the needs of different audiences, as well as those of international distributors, sales agents and exhibitors. I would love to open the event up to Asia more, and it’s something I would like to look into next year, as we do promote Helsinki and Finland as a shooting destination as well. The European market will still remain very important, of course, with a lot of these countries distributing our films.

The idea to have a TV showcase [“The Best of Finnish TV Right Now”, presented by Audiovisual Producers Finland] was an interesting new addition. Would you like to develop it further?
We have been getting some really good feedback about that already because a lot of people we have been working with have a growing interest in television as well. I do feel it’s something we can develop, but obviously, our focus is still mainly on feature films. It’s a question of time constraint, too, as we keep having all of these great projects, and we don’t want to take any time away from them. Maybe in the future we could have a longer session devoted just to that topic? There is certainly a demand for that.

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