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10 Directors to Watch: ‘Heart of a Lion’ Director Dome Karukoski Tests Limits

Take-no-prisoners Finnish director targets gay-themed 'Tom of Finland' biopic next

“Liberation inspires me,” says Finnish filmmaker Dome Karukoski.

As someone who “doesn’t control himself,” Karukoski, the director of the neo-Nazi family drama “Heart of a Lion,” lives the same way he likes his cinema: without compunction.

“If I have a small hint that I will be ashamed of something, I’ll do it,” says the helmer. “Shame is one of the greatest obstacles for a director: If you’re feeling shame, it’s difficult to portray anything greater on the bigscreen.”

In “Heart of a Lion,” for example, he brazenly displays the brutality of the neo-Nazi life. “We wanted to make the violence as true as possible so it aches and traumatizes,” he says.

Karukoski’s films aren’t all vicious. Although his second film “Home of the Dark Butterflies” shows the ruthless goings-on at a Finnish boys’ school, he has also made a music-driven romantic drama (his debut “Beauty and the Bastard”), a distaff coming-of-age film (“Forbidden Fruit”) and a dark comedy (“Lapland Odyssey”).

“I always want to do something different,” he says. “I don’t seek security. After three dramas, I did a comedy, and we started it with five suicides.”

Karukoski, a self-described actors’ director, cites a range of movie influences. In his Helsinki office, he has posters of “The Godfather” and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue” on the wall. He was so taken with the latter film that when he saw it on his 18th birthday — “with its use of music and melodrama,” he says — he stole the poster from the theater’s wall.

After unveiling “Heart of a Lion” at Toronto, Karukoski scored an ICM agent and momentum for his highest-profile project yet: “Tom of Finland,” the story of the larger-than-life gay erotic artist that he hopes to shoot next year.

He’s also finishing up his latest Finnish film “The Grump,” and preparing to look for Hollywood-based projects. And though his U.S. reps want him to conceive of a 20-year-plan, the Finnish answer to that, he says, “is to make films that are not totally shit — that’s our way of showing encouragement.”

Stats:
› Age: 37
› Home base: Helsinki
› Agencies: ICM Partners; Actors In Scandinavia; The Lisa Richards Agency

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