Max Ovaska • Director of Carrier
"It's a story about fear and a reluctance to let go of a phase in life, and entering another that is new and unknown"
- As he prepares to take part in EFP's Future Frames and screen his film, we talk to the Finnish director about filming on ferries and breaking stereotypes about pregnant women
Aside from working as an actor, Finnish director Max Ovaska also studies at the University of Art and Design Helsinki UIAH, School of Motion Picture, Television and Production Design. With several shorts already under his belt, his BA graduation film Carrier will screen at the 56th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (1-9 July) as part of European Film Promotion’s Future Frames. The film has already had some success, being one of the seven narrative finalists in the 2021 Student Academy Awards
Carrier is a darkly funny crime drama about Janika (Saara Kotkaniemi) who is at the very late stages of pregnancy. Her condition comes in very useful for her side hustle of smuggling drugs on the Talllinn-Helsinki ferry. Her decision to take one last job seems to be easy, until the contractions start.
Cineuropa: How much does the film want to subvert expectations? Most drug smuggling films deal with an underworld of crime, all thugs and emaciated addicts. But here, it’s all very comfortably middle class.
Max Ovaska: When we started developing the script with screenwriter Josefina Rautiainen, subverting expectations soon became one of our main intentions. We wanted to have a pregnant woman - who is typically seen as clumsy and dependent on others' help - as a strong and capable lead. Drug users and smugglers are mostly seen in Finnish drama as either losers or scumbags, or both. We wanted to avoid repeating that stereotype by having characters whose behaviour isn’t defined by their drug use.
Janika is hooked to the feeling of importance she gets from her smuggling career, and she's reluctant to give it up, because she's got new people around her. It felt important to us to see these characters as likeable, also for the sake of avoiding stereotypes, which more often seem to be exploited than challenged.
Did you research any specific stories or incidents?
I've talked quite a lot about drug trafficking with people who have done it professionally, so when we decided to tell a story about a character doing it, I felt fairly confident navigating that story terrain, even though I'm not experienced in it myself.
However, it's a fictional story which really isn't about drug smuggling. It's a story about fear and a reluctance to let go of a phase in life and entering another that is new and unknown. Drug smuggling is the main character's obsession and that could as well be something else completely, but such a criminal affair felt like the right element to draw suspense from.
Janika's smuggling method probably wouldn't be very successful in reality. On our first visit to the terminal location where she operates, we told the guy in charge of security that we're making a film with an unusual method of smuggling drugs, to which he replied that we would not be able to come up with a method somebody hadn't tried already.
Tell us about the casting.
I've known Saara Kotkaniemi for half my life, since we went to high school together. I cast her and Joonas Saartamo (Janika's brother) already before the script was written. So the roles were actually written for them.
One great benefit of choosing Saara was the fact that she's had a child so - for example - the build-up of contractions in the story were thought through together with her. But the greatest benefits were her mad acting skills and commitment to her work.
Was it complicated to shoot? And were the ferry companies on board, considering the subject matter?
The film was shot in six and a half days, and on the ferry we only shot for one day. We needed to get on for the aisle scenes, and we built the ship cabin in a studio.
The ferry companies are indeed tricky with shooting permits, but luckily one company allowed us to shoot on-board. They didn't mind the content of our film at all. I guess they got the humour in our script and didn't mind being associated with this stuff.
Do you have ideas for your next project?
I'm currently pregnant with ideas and working hard to get them into production. I'm directing a TV series this fall, and after that I'll focus on screenwriting for my debut feature and another series.
My background is in acting and I don't want to let go of that work either, so I'll also keep doing that whenever I can.
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