Jan Nåls, Principal Lecturer, Department of Culture and Media, Arcada UAS
The Swedish speaking minority in Finland has its own unique film culture – commonly referred to as Finlandssvensk film. Historically, it has been an unruly child who has demanded a little bit too much attention and money, a troublemaker with identity issues, part of a relatively civilised cultural family whose members are accustomed to other, more traditional, modes of cultural expression. The future of Finlandssvensk film, as with any media field these days, is full of great threats, and perhaps even greater opportunities. These were discussed on 3 December 2019, when just over 100 of the top names in Finlandssvensk film gathered at Korjaamo in Helsinki, for an event called Den finlandssvenska filmbranschens stormöte – Finlandssvensk film inför 2020. The event, organised by Finlandssvenskt filmcentrum, included a wide array of speakers from the industry.
Director Ulrika Bengts reminded us that art provides a breathing space for all groups of people, especially minorities that feel unseen and invisible. In her words: Film gives voice, asks questions, makes us visible, and gives us a chance for identification. It opens up new worlds.
The education, making, funding, and distribution of Finlandssvensk film are parts of cultural policy – they are acts of equality, and of justice. Arcada is the sole provider of Swedish speaking film education Finland, and Arcada also has a positive social impact in the professional field, an impact that was visible throughout the day. Fred Nordström, program director at Arcadas department of Film and Media, was introduced as someone with one of the most important positions in Finlandsvensk film today, as he gave a spirited speech on the importance of education. He argued that it is vital that the industry give opportunities and context to young talent, otherwise we might end losing our stories, and storytellers, abroad. Nordström gave an example of a short horror film, Abyssus, produced at Arcada by Emil Jokipalo (while registered as an Arcada student – he created his distribution plan as part of his thesis), that has made an impact at the international festival circuit. The up-and-coming horror filmmakers did not find the context they were looking for in Finland, so they sought, and found it, elsewhere. A relevant question for all of the industry is how to make use of our specific cultural context, how to root our content in the local, and simultaneously make sure it is relevant in an international market.
The industry is changing rapidly – trends that were highlighted was the ever-growing popularity of series and the different ways of distributing content, notably streaming. One of the keynote speakers, Head of film production at SF Studios Annika Sucksdorff, noted that streaming will surpass cinema as the most popular way of viewing in december 2019. Arcada provided a current case study from the new landscape of distribution. One Arcada alumni, Kaya Pakaslahti, created Badrumshistorier, a pilot for a series, during her studies, and she also based her written thesis on feminist filmmaking around the pilot she wrote and directed. Pakaslahti went on to write and direct an 18–episode web series based on Badrumshistorier, produced by Moilo and distributed via Yle Arenan. The series, now called Badrumsliv, has gathered 376 571 unique views on Yle Arenan to date (15.12.19), and is also accessible on similar streaming platforms in Norway and Denmark.
A key questions throughout the day was: How do we thrive in the future? Director Malin Nyqvist suggested that we need a new way of working. She named it “collective learning”, as she called for openness and transparency in film practises. She urged producers and directors to include all members in the creative process, and she mentioned her recent graduation film from Aalto, De Rasande, as a tangible example of the power of the collective. Perhaps the greatest change in the industry is similar movements away from traditional hierarchies that have been present in film production. Oftentimes these hierarchies have been male-dominated – strongly challenged everywhere by the #metoo -movement.
In order to thrive it is equally important to know your audience, as producer Leila Lyytikäinen from Citizen Jane pointed out. A compelling narrative, great visuals, and superb actors are not by themselves enough. Filmmakers must know how to make it appealing to a specific audience, and be prepared to listen to and learn from the audience. The good news is that audiences – or producers – are no longer bound by national or language markets. Filmmakers are encouraged to approach funders and distributors from different countries, and they can do so with productions in their own language. There is a strong interest in foreign language content everywhere, and now is a good time to broaden horizons and break barriers. In Lyytikäinens words: narrow is wide (“det smala är det breda”). Local is global. Director Claes Olsson, a key figure in Finlandssvensk film for the last 50 years, also spoke of this change. The playing field of Finlandssvensk film was previously largely limited to Svenska Yle as the main distributor and financer. Today there are more players than ever, as for example Netflix,Telia, Elisa, and Viasat are all looking to produce local content in the Nordic region. This new reality gives Finlandssvensk film an unique opportunity to thrive.
A third advice for the future benefit of Finlandssvensk film is to forge long term partnerships between individuals, as well as between institutions. The Danish model could be one of the many ways of addressing the introduction of students to the industry. Den danske filmskole (the national Danish film school) has for years worked closely with DR (the National public broadcaster), with a focus on scriptwriting and production for series. Every year, graduating students pitch their ideas for DR, with at least one series chosen and developed further towards production. This long-term investment in young talent has been instumental in the continued global success of Danish series. Strong structures between education, financing, and distibution are vital for any minority and its cultural expressions. Long-term partnerships are important also because they help build a common sense of purpose.
The funders of the event – and key funders of Finlandssvensk film in general – were Svenska Kulturfonden and Konstsamfundet. The CEO:s of respective foundations, Sören Lillkung and Stefan Björkman, also acted as speakers. They offered a summary of the day, and they too shared their visions for Finlandssvensk film. Lillkung spoke of the differences that enrich the Swedish cultural landscape in Finland, and he envisioned future films made, for example, in the dialect spoken in Närpes in Österbotten. Björkman pointed out that Finlandssvensk film is perhaps in need of a physical meeting place, one which could offer an inspiring space for discussions and screenings, and strenghten a common sense of purpose. Both Lillkung and Björkman also asked questions from the audience in an important dialogue that is to be continued.
Ulrika Bengts concluded that Finlandssvensk film is of great importance because we need to have our lives mirrored and told, but also to show the rest of Finland – and the world – that we exist, and that we have something to contribute, also outside our borders. And as Leila Lyytikäinen put it: If you think small, you will remain small. The different stakeholders in Finlandssvensk film need each other in order to grow.