HELSINKI — The Finns have rediscovered local cinema. In 1999 Finnish features accounted for more than 25% of theatrical admissions, and five domestic titles qualified for the list of top 10 films — the best result for the local industry since the 1940s.
At the celebration Friday for the 30th anniversary of the Finnish Film Foundation, managing director Jouni Mykkanen disclosed the figure to culture minister Suvi Linden, presenting the final draft of a three-year action program to maintain the high profile newly acquired by domestic product.
“The strong box office performance was achieved through 12 releases, and as an average we can only afford eight. At the same time, several of the films had budgets over $2 million, and we usually do not spend more than $1 million on each,” said Mykkanen, who attributed some of the success to the launch of two new multiplexes in Helsinki.
“Audiences have not only flocked to laugh at the usual local, and rather shallow, comedies, but also to see the more ambitious films,” added leading Finnish critic Helena Ylanen, of Helsingin Sanomat.
After domestic market shares as low as 3.5% in 1996, Finnish films took 54% of total admissions during the first four months of 1999, from seven titles premiered over nine weeks. By the end of the year, 12 productions had sold almost 2 million of the 7 million tickets sold at Finnish cinemas. (In 1998 6.4 million tickets were sold overall).
Set during Finland’s Continuation War with Russia, Olli Saarela’s “Ambush” was No. 2 on the charts, with 427,500 tickets sold, only 8,000 less than “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace.”Since his appointment in 1995, Mykkanen has been able to increase public funding for production by 40%, but he wants another $6 million annually to maintain last year’s volume of features and further support quality television programming from the country’s independent sector.
“We also need an overall agreement between the government, the foundation, the public and private broadcasters and the industry to meet the challenges from digitalization and new distribution channels. After 12 concessions have been confirmed, digital TV could begin in Finland as early as September this year,” he explained.
This year a maximum of nine Finnish features are scheduled to open.