103 Years of Finnish Cinema
By Cornelis Hähnel. The Finnish film is a rare guest on the international screens. This may be because the Finnish film industry, due to the country's small population of only about 5 Mio., is one of the smallest in Europe. There were only 14-19 features produced annually in the new millennium. The Finnish Film Fund (Suomen Elokuvasäätiö) is part of the Department of Education and gets its funds from a national lottery. In 2008 it provided 16.1 Mio. Euro for domestic film productions; the market share of these films is about 14%. From 2002 to 2005 there was a programme to strengthen domestic production, and in 2006 another stage was launched that aimed to boost the funding until 2010 to an amount of 27 Mio. Euro. The goal is to strengthen Finnish cinema in the long run both nationally and internationally and to live up to Scandinavian standards.
First feature film in 1907
Luckily there are, as is so often the case, no relations between quantity and quality, and the few productions that get made are of a very high standard. After the first cinemas were established in 1903 Teuvo Puro in 1907 directed the first Finnish feature film SALAVIINANPOLTTAJAT („The Moonshiners”), but it wasn't after the independence in 1917 that “regular” film production in Finland set in. A major contribution to this was made by the company “Suomi Filmi”, founded in 191by Erkki Karu and Teuvo Puro. Karu is regarded as the most important silent era director, and his film THE LOGROLLER'S BRIDE (1923) was the first Finnish film to be an international success.
The talkies then started the Golden Era of Finnish filmmaking. When Karu was fired from „Suomi Filmi“ he founded „Suomen Filmiteollisuus“, which established a prolific situation of competition and let the number of productions rise. The most important names of the Golden Era were Risto Orko (AKTIVISTIT, 1940), Nyrkii Tapiovaara (JUHA, 1935) and Valentin Vaala, whose film JUURAKON HULDA (1937) almost managed to find one million paying viewers. That mark wasn't broken until KULKURIN VALSSI (1941) by T.J. Särkkä.
The wild children of the 1980s
From the 1950s onwards there was a young generation of filmmakers starting out, that would prove to define Finnish cinema anew. Those were, amongst others, Ville Salminen, Erik Blomberg, Matti Kassila, and Edvin Laine, whose TUNTEMATON SOTILAS („The Unknown Soldier“) with 2,8 million tickets sold turned out to be the most successful Finnish film of all time. In the 80s, a decade that saw 30 debut directors, a generation of wild children succeeded them. Among those 30 were Aki and Mika Kaurismäki, Janne Kuusi, Lauri Törhönen, Veikko Aaltonen, Markku Lehmuskallio and Taavi Kassila, all of whom started out in the 80s. Renny Harlin, who would later move on to become a major Hollywood director, was at this time establishing himself as a director of commercials. When the country went through an economic crisis in the early 90s, the film industry took some blows as well, and state support for the arts were severely limited. At the end of the century, though, the industry rebounded, and the measures to strengthen the nation film funds mentioned above were taken.
About 20 film festivals
In order to secure the high quality of future filmmaking, rookie filmmakers are invited to study film both at the Aalto University School of Art and Design in Helsinki and at the Lahti University of Applied Science. Regarding the presentation of films, Finland is also well set-up with their about 20 film festivals featuring different themes and topics. Among them is the Midnight Sun Film Festival, the Tampere International Short Film Festival (which was founded in 1970, making it the country's oldest festival), the DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival and the Helsinki International Film Festival Love & Anarchy which specializes in young, independent filmmakers. So sometimes, when it comes to a nation's size, less is actually more.