As the end of the first decade of the Finnish Film Affair nears, the industry event’s director, Maria Pirkkalainen, who also heads Nordic Flair, notes its phenomenal growth, with more than 200 Finnish film projects showcased, more than 500 international guests brought to Helsinki, and the establishment of a major platform and networking forum for locals.

And things keep evolving, she says: “We are thrilled to now branch out to offer this to filmmakers from our neighboring Nordic countries as well. Not to mention we’ve curated over 2,000 meetings between our guests during all these years. And introduced hundreds of people to the art of sauna.”

The traditional sweat-soaked industry mixer, just one of the signature events of Finnish Film Affair, is typical of the creative approaches Pirkkalainen and her team have embraced in her three years leading the event.

The key driver, she says, is a focus on learning and a keenness to explore what’s new in the local industry and to distill the key topics that meetings need to take on.

“2021 has been an amazing year for Finnish films,” Pirkkalainen says, “with awards both in Cannes and Venice and some very interesting international co-productions currently in discussions about filming in Finland. It’s quite the different landscape to when we started in 2012!”

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Courtesy of Tanja Ryhanen

Some of the films that have launched into the international sphere from Finnish Film Affair include “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki” by Juho Kuosmanen, “The Euthanizer” by Teemu Nikki as well as “Stupid Young Heart” by Selma Vilhunen.

In trying to track the most telling metrics of the event, Pirkkalainen says, organizers gauge quality first. “Finnish Film Affair started with only 40 international guests but they were all decision makers. Through great word-of-mouth ahead of these 10 editions our event has grown to welcome around 400 delegates each year.”

Another important indicator is the number of meetings, she says, noting it takes real time and work for both the buyers and producers to prepare for the showcase day. “We want to make sure they’ll get the results they wanted.”

In terms of lessons learned from last year’s hybrid online/in-person event, forced by COVID precautions, Pirkkalainen notes the experience proved useful in surprising ways.

“We received really encouraging feedback from all of our delegates and had a record number of new international guests in attendance. It was a given that we’d continue on that path. I do think that online events bring a lot of great opportunities but in 2021 we’ve also seen that it’s clear that industry delegates miss the in-person events as well.”

In 2020, of course, delegates could easily attend two online events simultaneously, something that will now be a challenge short of cloning yourself. And choices on what to attend will be tough: “We have fantastic online attendees this year, which we’re really excited about.”

The Fiction in Development series screens feature follow-ups from Ulla Heikkilä (“Viva la Vida”) and Annika Grof (“Jose”), which are sure to draw crowds, Pirkkalainen says.

“Finnish Film Affair has never been afraid to showcase films that could be seen as pushing the genre boundaries as well,” she adds, citing two examples. “Last year the winner of our Best Fiction Project award was ‘The Twin’ by Taneli Mustonen and at this year’s Fiction in Development series you can hear about ‘The Beast Friend’ by Lauri-Matti Parppei.”

In documentary projects a strong current of music can be heard this year, Pirkkalainen says, in such projects as the musician-focused “Alma – Who Am I?” by Pamela Tola and “Michael Monroe – The Best Kept Secret in Rock’n’Roll,” directed by Pete Eklund and Jussi Lehtomäki, as well as “The Cello” by Kira Jääskeläinen, a film which follows the remarkable life story of a fine instrument.

One new event, the best Nordic project award, indicates promising growth in the region, Pirkkalainen notes. “Finnish Film Affair has always been about highlighting new talent and the Helsinki International Film Festival – Love & Anarchy has a history of showcasing up-and-coming Nordic filmmakers as well. Branching out to a Nordic direction felt like a very natural move for us as well as for the Finnish film industry.”

The new award highlights an emerging voice from the North in a film by a first- or second-time feature director.

The five films in the Nordic Selection include buzzy titles such as Denmark’s “The Great Silence,” directed by Katrine Brocks and Sweden’s “Locals” by Måns Nyman.

Panels, another key element to Finnish Film Affair, often focus on how to develop representation both on and off screen in Finland with speakers from Netflix, the BBC and the Swedish Film Institute taking the stage to address the issue Sept. 24.

“We’ve also launched a new industry residency program in partnership with the Academy of Moving People and Images here in Finland, which gives a filmmaker an opportunity to network and showcase their talent during FFA. We are dedicated to making access to the film industry easier.”