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Anna-Karin Grönroos • Director of Future Remains

“This film needed to be something more than just a polished portrait of some genius”


- Cineuropa talked to director to discuss her documentary, which takes a peek into the life of the man behind the book Nordic 2030

Anna-Karin Grönroos • Director of Future Remains
(© Laura Oja)

In her documentary Future Remains [+see also:
interview: Anna-Karin Grönroos
film profile
, screening at DocPoint 2021, Anna-Karin Grönroos reintroduces Finnish designer Henrik Wahlforss, who, despite a successful career, decided to leave it all behind and focus on his predictions for a better future – some of which prove especially timely today.

Cineuropa: This idea of leaving your job in order to fulfil a different desire – it's such a contemporary dream, even though Henrik did it in the 1980s.
Anna-Karin Grönroos:
Yes, he did what we would call “downshifting”. Back then, nobody knew that term, and people didn't understand his decision. But what really caught my attention when it came to him and his book, which became such a big project for him, was that he thought in the way people think now. He was just “stuck” in the 1980s, which almost made him a time traveller, of sorts. He felt quite alone with his perspective on society.

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Even today, if someone were to say that they wanted to change their life and “create a new social system”, one would be rather suspicious. He never really questioned it, though, did he?
Like with so many artists, for him, the meaning of life came through his work and his project. As far as I, and the people closest to him, could see, he was devoted to that. As a husband and father, he was probably not the easiest person to live with, but he could also be so inspiring. I have talked to almost 50 people who worked with him or knew him through some other connection. Everyone has a different take, but they all agree that he was incredibly focused on ideas. He could spend hours and hours talking about how the world should be. Already as a designer, that was the mission he had: how can you improve things that are not working? He was always thinking about problems and their possible solutions.

It's quite telling that although his career brought him recognition, he would still go on to say it's not good for the environment.
I suspect that this decision to leave – and focus on imagining a future society where the economic and political system would be completely different – was linked to him becoming a father. I don't think it was a coincidence. Suddenly, the future became much more concrete: children are the manifestation of it and of how close it is. You look at them, thinking: “They are going to live through the decisions we are making right now.” For him, it must have been an eye-opener.

Is that also why you show Greta Thunberg in the film? They are two different people, but both are saying: “There is no time to waste.”
It's kind of spooky to hear her say basically the same things. And now, people are finally listening! Henrik had difficulty with finding his audience. I was happy to include her, even though it's such a small part. I had to read his book [Nordic 2030] many times to grasp the essence of it. There are technological predictions, where he talks about the internet and renewable energy, but it's also about values: eating food that's locally produced, trying not to buy new things every year. He was arguing that consumer culture was completely outdated. But once you go further, you realise that he also talks about what brings people together. For earlier generations, what you did for a living was such a big part of everyone's identity. It's changing now, in this digital culture. There is a void that we all feel, and we need a new set of values. Henrik suggested that it should be about preserving the planet, that this could unite us. Between the lines, that's what every chapter is really about.

It can be hard to grow up with a heritage like this, and his son seems very conflicted about his life choices. How did you convince his family to open up about it?
I am grateful that they trusted me with that. I think it's a part of their legacy, too: they felt this film needed to be something more than just a polished portrait of some genius. It needed to reflect all of these conflicting aspects of Henrik because all of his sons felt that's how he was: as a person and as a father. He could be loving, but also very demanding. It's crucial in any kind of film: you want to show people in many different colours.

So many of these dreamers are just forgotten. Is he known at least in his own country?
He was from Finland, like me, but lived his professional life in Sweden. I have been asking people about him, and he is definitely not a household name. There isn't even a Wikipedia page about him. There is a plan to host some kind of exhibition now, connected to his book, but it's still very minor. The reaction of so many people comes down to: “Why have I never heard of him?!” This film could change that, and maybe at some point, the book could be republished as well. I really hope that this is not the end.

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