HELSINKI, Finland– Elli Toivoniemi’s docu feature debut “Once I Was A Dragonfly” nabbed the inaugural Pitch Award at the fourth edition of the Finnish Film Affair, the two-day confab hosted alongside the Helsinki film festival.
“Dragonfly” (pictured above) follows the journey of Miikka Friman, a 24-year old amateur filmmaker whose fascination for butterflies shaped his life from the age of 6.
Toivoniemi, who is producing the pic via her Helsinki-based company Tuffi Films, previously directed the short film “Role” which played at Locarno in 2014 and produced the Oscar-nominated short “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything” in 2013.
The documentary won a 3000 Euros grant as part of the best pitch award whose jury comprised Fortissimo Films’ Berenice Fugard, TenOne Entertainment’s Robert Burke and LA-based critic Barbara Gasser.
“Elli has a rare talent for capturing stunning visuals and telling a complex story in a relatable way. She also understands how to create an invisible bond between the subject of her documentary and the audience,” stated the jury.
Hussain Currimbhoy and Jim Kolmar, programmers for Sundance and SXSW, respectively, argued the win for “Dragonfly” underscores the strength of Finnish documentaries. In fact, both programming execs said Finnish documentaries have the potential to travel more widely than features.
Kolmar cited “The Punk Syndrome” “Steam of Life,” “The Visit” and “Searching for Sugar Man” as recent exemple of critically-acclaimed documentaries from Finland or elsewhere in Scandinavia.
“Documentaries are particularly interesting because they often reveal subcultures and eccentricities which is what South by Southwest is all about,” said Kolmar. Speaking about Finnish docus in particular Kolmar argued that “many of them display a sensibility and a quirky sense of humor that translate better than in fiction films; and they also have and underlining warmth and the willingness to invest in characters.”
Although the projects pitched at the Finnish Film Affair are too early in the development stage to be considered for a selection at South by Southwest or Sundance, Kolmar and Currimbhoy agreed that being in Helsinki and listening to the pitches was useful.
“We can’t rely exclusively on submissions and being here, in the epicenter of the Finish Film industry, helps me pick up on trends, meet filmmakers, and get a broader perspective on the local movie landscape,” said Kolmar.
“Dragonfly” was one of the 19 works in progress pitched at the Finnish Film Affair. Other highlights included Katja Gauriloff’s “Baby Jane” from Oktober, Selma Vilhunen’s “Little Wing” from Making Movies, Aleksi Mäkelä’s “Love Records” from Fisher King and Juho Kuosmanen’s “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” from Aamu Film Company.
“Jailhouse Socrates” by Pekka Lehto is another noteworthy docu project pitched at the confab, per Marja Pallasalo, head of short and documentary film promotion at the Finnish Film Foundation. Lehto is known for making provocative films and docs such as “Flame Top” and “Emergency Call- A Murder Mystery” that give an edgy insight on Finnish society. Produced by Zone2 Pictures, “Jailhouse Socrates” unveils Finland’s criminal underworld and the justice system’s rampant corruption.
The confab hosted a panel discussing ways to develop, cast, package and market Finnish-originated films in the States and get into festivals and theaters. The roundtable featured U.S. execs, notably Currimbhoy, Kolmar, Gudrun Giddings, whose credits include “Banshee Chapter,” Ryan Wickers, head of development of U.S. production at EuropaCorp, Peter Trinh, agent at ICM and Robert Burke,” managing director of TenOne Entertainment.
Johanna Karppinen, CEO of the Finnish Film & Audiovisual Export association, said local directors and producers are increasingly looking collaborate with North American partners in order to deliver movies with broader commercial potential and access bigger budgets, which in Finland are lower on average than in the rest of Scandinavia. The exec also argued the success of “Iron Sky” and “Big Game” have bolstered that trend.
“Finnish films are definitely on the international radar,” says Sara Norberg, the exec director of the Helsinki film fest, also known as Love & Anarchy festival. “There is a huge appetite in the local industry to take this to the next level and we are very happy to offer them the tools that can help them and their projects work internationally.”
The Finnish Film Affair presented nearly 60 Finnish films, either finished or in development, and attracted a record 300 participants, including 90 international industry players such as sales agents from Fortissimo Films, Picture Tree International and Memento Films.