Cinema Scandinavia: This year you released Love and Fury, which you wrote and directed. Where did you find the inspiration to write this story and how do you feel the release has been in Finland?
Alli Haapasalo: Love and Fury is based on a Finnish book called Syysprinssi (Autumn prince) written by Anja Snellmann. It was a bit of a sensation when the novel was released in 1996 because it is an account of an intense love affair between two known and respected writers in Finland. I first read the book in 2000, when I was a first-year film student at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki.
I immediately thought the story would make a wonderful feature film. This was a story about a very complex and dramatic relationship, but at the same time. It was a story about a young female writer finding her own voice and becoming an artist. But it was also a story about a young male writer falling ill with mental illness and losing his voice as an artist. As the backdrop was Helsinki in 1980-81, a city bursting with young energy and a need for change: the young culturals were demanding a more liberal atmosphere after the ‘one truth 70’s’. These were the perfect ingredients for a film!
I had only just started my film education, so I didn’t think about making this into a feature film right away. Then, ten years later, I was living in New York where I had graduated from the film school at New York University and was looking for my first feature project. Syysprinssi reappeared from my subconscious; I wanted to read it and see how I’d feel about it now. Truth be told, I liked it even more! There is a second period in the book where the young lovers meet fifteen years later and finally resolve their dramatic relationship. And now, with ten years more of life lived, I related with this part of the story as well. I became fascinated with the theme of narratives we tell each other – and ourselves – about our lives. We all have a truth about what happened in our lives, but there is only A truth, not THE truth.
Both main characters have a different version of what happened to them, and both are right. Still, they can see each other again, and I mean really see, past the hurt and past the years of blaming. In the end, this was a story about how love is forever. Your life’s most important love affair may come to an end, but the love you feel for that person is forever.
The release in Finland has gone very well: the film has been critically acclaimed with an overwhelming about of 4-star reviews. That is, of course, wonderful for a first-time feature director and screenwriter. But even more important to that is that I managed to achieve the work of art I set out to make. I loved my cast and crew, and this was a wonderful collaborative experience.
CS: What was the process of bringing the film from script to the big screen?
AH: Going from the script to the big screen went fairly straightforward. I had spent four years writing the script as I wanted it to be, so the writing process was my biggest struggle. Once the script was ready, it was very well-liked by everyone involved, and that’s most important when making a film. If the script is inspiring, people put their best foot forward, and they want to do an amazing job to make the film as good as the script. I was very lucky to have the best possible artistic collaborators from production designer to the composer.
CS: As you mentioned, this is your first feature film. How does the process differ from making shorts?
AH: The only real differences are the scope and the scale. A short is a much lighter production than a feature film. There is also some dramaturgical difference – you must understand a feature’s structure specifically to make dramaturgy work. But the artistic process is similar; the questions and the choices you should make as a director are the same and you use your craft in the same way. I had previously made a sixty-minute film for the Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE, and that had been a large-scale production, So, having that experience under my belt helped to adjust to the large-scale production of Love and Fury.
CS: What are your thoughts on the Finnish film industry in 2016?
AH: 2016 has been a phenomenal year for Finnish film! Starting from political thriller The Mine by Aleksi Salmenperä early in the year, then continuing with Juho Kuosmanen’s Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki – which of course was awarded in Cannes – and ending with a fall of record numbers of Finnish releases in theatres!
Also, this fall there were more films by female directors than in previous years – such as Selma Vilhunen’s Little Wing and my Love and Fury – which is very important for the variety and quality of Finnish film. In fact, I can’t remember the last time we’ve had so many great Finnish films in theatres at the same time!
The advantage here in Finland is that there is public funding for the film. Having lived for a long time in the United States, where no such funding exists, I know many talented people and their interesting projects never take off because of the lack of opportunity. It’s hard for aspiring filmmakers if opportunities depend on how bankable you are as a promising talent, or how potentially commercial your project is. Creative freedom in the European system is a wonderful advantage.
The disadvantage would be the fact that here in Finland we don’t always know how to use our wonderful creative freedom. Many Finnish films end up being dull because of the lack of risk-taking – and the most original ideas may not stay alive as they go through ‘the development hell’ of many rounds of commenting. Of course, I understand it’s hard for Finnish production companies to take risks as the audience in Finland is so small (if a film breaks 100,000 admissions at the box office it’s already considered a success), and making films profitable is not easy with a small audience. But I still hope that the Finnish film industry continues to get more and more courageous, adventurous and international – a tendency that has already started.
CS: Do you have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
AH: Right now, I’m working on a new feature project with screenwriter Karoliina Lindgren (Armi Alive! directed by Jörn Donner 2015 was written by her). This is a story about a woman living a double life between Finland and America – she has one life in Helsinki and another in New York. This story is something I have wanted to make for a long time – I wrote down the first notes for it ten years ago, while going to New York University. But it’s Karoliina who has lifted this story to completely new heights – it’s now shaping up to be a fascinating and big story of remorse and mercy, and I can hardly contain my excitement for it. It’ll take a while to finance this expensive film, but I hope that we can bring it to the audiences in not too distant a future.