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Maria Pirkkalainen • Head, Finnish Film Affair and Nordic Flair

“Some hybrid form of the Finnish Film Affair will certainly continue in the future, as it does bring opportunities”


- We had a chat with Maria Pirkkalainen, head of the Finnish Film Affair and Nordic Flair, to explore what’s new in the local industry and to find out about some of the key topics up for discussion

Maria Pirkkalainen • Head, Finnish Film Affair and Nordic Flair

Established in 2012, the Finnish Film Affair (FFA), the industry event of the Helsinki International Film Festival – Love & Anarchy, and Nordic Flair, its related initiative that offers career-development opportunities for Nordic talent, are ready to get under way today and run until 25 September, in a hybrid format. We chatted to Maria Pirkkalainen, now in her second year as head of the Finnish Film Affair and Nordic Flair, to further explore what’s new in the local industry and to find out about some of the key topics set to be discussed.

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Cineuropa: What are your expectations for your second year at the Finnish Film Affair and Nordic Flair?
Maria Pirkkalainen:
What makes me the proudest is that everything we set out to achieve earlier this year is still taking place, despite all of the changes and uncertainty. We have nearly 50 Finnish films in our showcase and line-up; we’ve launched Nordic Selection, our new initiative showcasing four first or second feature-film pitches from our neighbouring Nordic countries; we have fantastic speakers attached to our industry panels; and Nordic Flair’s training programme will be focusing on the rising stars of Nordic sales agents and distributors. We have nearly 400 delegates in attendance, with around half of them online. It’s not the same event we had envisioned in January, and we hoped we could have hosted our international guests here in person! But I’m really looking forward to offering this programme to our delegates, whether online or on site in Helsinki.

What is it like to be running an industry event under the current circumstances?
As it’s a September event, you may think we were lucky, as we had six months to re-plan the gathering after the situation started evolving in March. That being said, we had to change our plans many times during that half a year! We decided early on that most of our international guests would attend the event online, as Finland had, and still has, one of the most restrictive border policies in Europe. We were hoping to bring a small number of speakers and press to Helsinki, but that changed in August, when the restrictions became tighter. It’s one of those things that we couldn’t foresee, and luckily everyone understood the situation, as the health and safety of our guests is our priority. At the same time, we didn’t want to solely do an online event, as half of our attendees are from Finland. As much as I can’t wait to be able to welcome our international guests to Helsinki again, some hybrid form of the FFA will most certainly continue in the future, as it does bring opportunities as well.

What are the current trends in this year’s selection at the FFA?
This year, a whopping one-third of our overall programme is debut features. The FFA, as well as the Helsinki IFF in general, has always been happy to shine the spotlight on new talent. Another theme worth noting is that we have a number of Finnish animations and family films in the selection this year.

Does the Finnish film industry comply with the diversity standards that are so necessary today?
Representation in Finnish films and TV shows is a significant and urgent discussion point at the FFA’s industry panels this year. We were lucky to be able to team up with Audiovisual Producers Finland (APFI) to organise a session where the results of a statistical study on representation figures in Finnish films will be presented. This will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by actor-writer Jani Toivola, and featuring speakers such as Max Malka (Endemol Shine Finland), Laura Kuulasmaa (Elisa Viihde), Jarmo Lampela (YLE) and director Suvi West. We really want this to act as a starting point for a wider discussion on how the Finnish industry can further evolve and change in the future.

Given that the Helsinki International Film Festival has reached its gender-parity goal at this edition, is the FFA also following the same path?
This year, 58% of the FFA’s overall programme has at least one non-male director, and to be honest, it feels like it came about naturally, as it always has for the FFA. We have a 50/50 split across our panel speakers as well.

Nordic Flair has now been expanded to encompass emerging Nordic sales agents and distributors. Is this a sector that needs further support, especially now?
The idea for the focus came to us last year already, as there really isn’t any similar opportunity for these trades in the Nordic countries. I am myself a Berlinale Talents Market Studio alumna and know how important attending these courses can be, both professionally and personally. And because of the ever-evolving situation, the importance of fresh ideas in the sectors of distribution and sales is crucial right now. We’re really thankful that the Nordisk Film & TV Fond came on board to support this initiative. This focus is something that I’d really love to continue in the coming years as well. This first year, we are focusing on the rising stars, with six participants from Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. One idea I have for next year is to focus on more senior staff, or even individuals who have recently started up their own companies – this is something that came up often when we spoke with key industry players, so hopefully it’s something we can offer next year.

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