Love & Anarchy is about to begin - An interview with the artistic director Pekka Lanerva
It's almost that time of the year in Helsinki when the most passionate cinema enthusiasts eagerly await the Helsinki International Film Festival. This 10-day event, from September 14th to 24th, will feature over 150 films and short films.
However, the Helsinki International Film Festival isn't just about films; it also includes panel discussions, side events, and some afterparties.
The festival will also host international guests, including British actor Timothy Spall, whose latest film The Last Bus will be screened, the director Catherine Corsini, who will present her film Homecoming, the director Lea Glob (Apolonia, Apolonia), and many others. The festival will also organize panel discussions or Q&A sessions with these guests, providing an opportunity for more specific questions about the films. Information about the afterparties can be found on the website. To gather more detailed information, I interviewed the festival's artistic director, Pekka Lanerva, who has been involved with the festival for 35 years, since the second edition.
How did the festival start and why the name “Rakkautta ja anarkiaa” (Love and Anarchy)?
The festival has a long history; this is its 36th year. It all started with only two directors. The event was organized by Image, a magazine primarily focused on photography at the time. Image was also a cultural organization that decided to expand into cinema, and that's how it all started.
The name chosen, Rakkautta ja anarkiaa, in English Love and Anarchy, was inspired by the Italian movie called Film d'amore e d'anarchia, ovvero 'stamattina alle 10 in via dei Fiori nella nota casa di tolleranza... by Lina Wertmüller. The story is set in the Mussolini era and revolves around a man, whose communist friend is killed when the fascists come to power. Filled with anger, he seeks revenge in Rome, where he encounters communist groups, including a woman working in a brothel. They plan to hide there, and amidst these circumstances, he falls in love with a prostitute, leading to a confusion of his original intentions.
We thought the name was suitable for this festival because the films bring out different emotions and combine opposites. Love is often the most significant theme, but the inclusion of 'anarchy' adds a political dimension to the context within this field.
During your festival career, did you see any changes?
Over the years, our festival has experienced a blend of loyal, long-time attendees and an influx of enthusiastic younger audiences. Our team is diverse in age and experience, with newer members bringing in fresh perspectives.
Collaboration is central to our film selection process, involving discussions with various groups, including ministries and curators. We meticulously review over 1,000 films annually to curate our program, focusing on global cinema trends. This year, our themes include Spanish and Latin American films, emerging African talent, and European-African collaborations. Our audience appreciates Asian and American independent films, along with Scandinavian cinema.
Most of the films screened have English subtitles, but some, like the gala movies, have Finnish subtitles. It is recommended to refer to the film's information for more details about the screening before purchasing the ticket.
For a person who doesn't know anything about Finnish cinema, what kind of movie would you recommend to watch at the festival?
There are many Finnish films to be screened at the festival this year. Along with the new film by Aki Kaurismäki, the Jury Prize Cannes 2023, Fallen Leaves (Kuolleet lehdet), I recommend watching Teemu Niikki´s Death is a Problem for the Living (Peluri- Kuolema on elävien ongelma). It may not be suitable for everyone, and it has a lot of black humor, but it is one of the strongest Finnish movies we have this year.
Another film to consider is Four Little Adults (Nelja pienta aikusta) - Selma Vilhunen, which explores the topic of polyamorous relationships.
I also recommend Mummola by Tia Kouvo. This film offers a unique glimpse into a Finnish Christmas experience, making it an excellent introduction for foreign audiences. It revolves around an elderly couple in the countryside, with their children and grandchildren joining them for Christmas. What sets this film apart is its experimental style, using a static camera to capture conversations and people moving in and out of the frame, providing a distinct perspective on the familiar storyline.
What are your top film recommendations this year?
I have a couple of standout film recommendations. First, The Zone of Interest (Grand Prix Cannes 2023) is a powerful drama set near Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust. It focuses on the commander of the camp and his family, showing how they lived near the horror without fully grasping it. The film is a chilling reminder of how ordinary people played a part in such atrocities.
Another must-see is Yorgos Lanthimos' Poor Things (Venice Golden Lion 2023), a "departure" from his usual minimalist style. It's a science fiction fantasy with stunning visuals, following a woman with a childlike mind on her journey to adulthood. It's both funny and thought-provoking.
We also have Apolonia, Apolonia by Lea Glob, a documentary about artist Apollonia Sokol's rise to fame in the art world, which is still male-dominated. It's visually captivating.
Lastly, we feature Pedro Almodóvar's surprising short films Strange Way of Life and The Human Voice. Giacomo Abruzzese's Disco Boy, which is visually beautiful, and a collection of films under the name of the category Lifestyle, including the film by Kim Hopkins, A Bunch of Amateurs. We aim to choose movies for different tastes and age groups at the festival.