Seasoned Finnish producer Ilkka Matila (“The Eternal Road”, “All the Sins”) of MRP Matila Röhr has signed with Estonia’s Taska Film and locked early support from the Finnish Film Institute and local commercial channel MTV3 for the $2.7m film “Between the Hammer and the Sickle.” Nordisk Film holds Scandinavian rights.
To be pitched on Aug. 24 at the Nordic Co-Production Market in Haugesund, Norway, the title will be one of Matila’s most defining projects, a feature which he believes will stay, along the lines of the multi-awarded “Mother of Mine” or “The Eternal Road.”
“Between the Hammer and the Sickle” will be one of the first features ever to portray Finland’s illustrious former president Urho Kekkonen. Head of state for nearly 26 years, Kekkonen served as the longest-serving Finnish president from 1956 until 1981 and masterminded his country’s policy of neutrality, keeping at bay the threatening Soviet Union with which Finland shares 800 miles of border.
“I grew up with the Cold War, now war is returning in Europe, and is at our doorsteps – Ukraine,” said Matila. “Our president at the time Kekkonen was known as the Soviet whisperer, for his policy of conciliation with the Soviets; he was able to maintain peace and stability, and acted to protect our fragile democracy, always threatened by the anti-democratic giant,” Matila recalled.
He added: “I have made 44 features in the past 30 years and one thing I’ve learnt is that if I have a point to make, it becomes all the more evident when set in the past. To understand the present, you need to understand the past. As a filmmaker, I believe that intermediating between the present and the past is what we have to do for our audiences,” he noted.
The script, penned by Hannamaja Matila (“Secret Lives,” “Nurses”) is adapted from the memoirs of journalist Maarit Tyrkkö, who was a close friend of president Kekkonen.
The story follows Kekkonen, as he dreams of retiring and shares some memories with his newfound journalist friend Maarit Tyrkkö. But when the Soviets attack Afghanistan and a nuclear war is imminent, the aging president has to muster up the strength to venture into the Soviet Union to save humanity from destruction, using his own weapon: Straight talks.
“The film starts in 1975, with Helsinki’s Conference of Security and Cooperation of Europe, which basically signalled the start of the collapse of the Soviet Union and Cold War, and ends in 1981 when Kekkonen retires from politics,” explained Matila.
Figuring out how to tell the story from such rich material was “super challenging” acknowledged the producer, who feels his creative team has nevertheless found the right angle, by telling the historical drama from a contemporary person’s point of view – Maarit Tyrkkö, now in her 70s. “It’s also the story of a woman and her relationship with her mentor,” Matila continued. “She was the only person he could trust, not a rival, nor a spy, just an ordinary journalist.”
Spear-heading the period drama will be director Heikki Kuojanpää, well-known internationally for his dark comedy “Laugh or Die,” best film at the Santa Fe Film Fest 2020 and the first non-English language finalist at L.A.’s prestigious Humanitas Award.
“I really like ‘Laugh or Die,’ a film with a big heart,” Matila said. “As a former actor and theatre director, Heikki knows how to get the actors in character. He is also old enough to remember Kekkonen, he comes from the region where the former President came from and understands Kekkonen’s mindset. Most importantly, he really wants to tell this story.”
In Haugesund, Matila will be looking for other co-producers, co-financiers and a sales agent.
“Between the Hammer and the Sickle” is part of a multi-pic development and distribution deal with Scandinavian giant Nordisk Film signed in 2021. Other features include Klaus Härö’s WW2 drama “Never Alone”, due to start filming in March 2023, the drama comedy “Hamster” by Markku Pölönen (“Land of Hope”), and animated film “Malcolm Rocks” by “Niko & the Way to the Stars”’ Kari Juusonen.
Matila is also wrapping the third season of the hit crime series “All the Sins,” due to premiere on the leading Finnish streamer Elisa Viihde in 2023.
The Nordic Co-production Market in Haugesund, is one of the highlights of the New Nordic Films confab, which runs Aug 23-26, held parallel to the Norwegian Int’l Film Festival, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.