GÖTEBORG 2017: Selma Vilhunen talks ‘Little Wing’

You wrote the script for Little Wing. Where did you find the idea?

In many ways, the film is a personal story. Like Varpu, I grew up with my mother and that idea always felt special to me; the relationship between one adult and one child living together in a family of two. I hadn’t seen a film about this very special bond, and I felt like there was an idea there. This bond can be very beautiful and it can also be very exhausting, especially when the generational gap is blurred and the adult is not feeling very well.

Also, the theme of longing for your father comes from my life as well, as my own father died when I was a baby. In Varpu, I’m dealing with the themes of longing and in a way, I feel like I get to meet my own father through the film, as my father suffered mental illness like the character.

The film uses rather unconventional parents, with both seeming rather unstable…

Yes, I wanted to place a child in a situation where she has the burden of being the stronger one in the family. At the same time, it’s very important to me that the audience can see the good side in the mother character. She’s not just a hopeless person; she’s going through a hard time. Her child is quite okay so there must be something she has done well. We see a glimpse of hope in the mother.

Is that something you wanted to achieve with the father, too?

In this film, and in my other work, I’m interested in finding stereotypes where we don’t expect them. I like to dust them off and breathe new life into them. In Little Wing, it was important to portray these characters on both sides of their story. I wanted to take the viewer to a place where they are bit surprised about the nature of these characters shown in a different light. They are not one-sided or even two sided, but have many different sides.

A large part of the film show’s Varpu’s interest in horses. Is that from your childhood?

I was a horse girl when I was a teenager, so that’s a personal part of my life. I went to horse riding school every day and I was one of those people. It’s a very strong cultural element in Scandinavia, this horse riding school. I had just read yesterday that in Sweden it’s trendy because the riding lessons are quite cheap; they are around the same price as a movie ticket. It’s a very democratic thing. This is the same in Finland; you can ride horses without being one of the rich kids. This is an element that I find interesting; it’s like a cut through to society and different people meet at this school.

I’m working on another film now called HobbyHorse Revolution, which is also about horse-riding!  I just find the animal and the culture fascinating, so it’s really not a surprise that I have a lot about horses in my film.

Another recurring theme in the film is the mother’s inability to drive, whereas Varpu is perfectly capable, despite being only twelve years old…

I wanted to have a clear way of saying that the mother is a hopeless person and the child can do things on her own. In a way, it’s also a burden that kids shouldn’t be burdened with. When you’re driving, many elements come together, and Varpu is putting her rebellious side, grief, anger and longing into the act of driving.

You’ve worked a lot as a documentary filmmaker. Do you feel that has influenced your fiction filmmaking?

I’ve always believed that the two are not very different. I have been practical about the way I make documentaries, and I believe what I’ve gained is a trust in the moment. I also trust the simplicity of a situation because of the way I film scenes. This is something I have learned through documentary; that the characters don’t always do much but we know what is happening in the background.

Please tell us about your next film, HobbyHorse Revolution.

HobbyHorse Revolution is a documentary about a new trend in Scandinavia. In Sweden, there are thousands of kids, and in Finland there are about 10,000 people, that make and ride hobby horses in a very serious manner. They are often kids up to twenty-five year olds, and they practice riding and compete in competitions. They’ve created this beautiful community and it’s very diverse. The documentary is a celebration of diversity and creativity. We get to know the community through these characters, which we’ve followed for two and a half year. We witness their growing pains and how the community helps them overcome this.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.