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Finland’s Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture (AVEK) and Finnish Cultural Foundation are launching Kehittämö – Talent Development Lab, Variety has learned exclusively.

Described as Finland’s first audiovisual development program, it will provide aspiring creators with financial support – €55,000 each, bringing the yearly budget up to half a million – and mentoring from international experts, including Karol Griffiths, who has collaborated with the Coen brothers, Gitte Hansen and Alex Szalat, the head of Docs Up Fund.

“[It will allow us to] bring high quality fiction and documentary films, media artworks and other audiovisual works to the culture-loving audience. AVEK has excellent understanding and wide networks in the sector and working with them will bring added value to the Cultural Foundation’s work,” says director of cultural affairs Juhana Lassila.

The initiative will focus on the upcoming talent or established artists ready to try something different, offering them a chance to find their own voice.

“There will be no ‘reality check,’ no one on our side telling you this isn’t possible. We want to encourage newcomers to embrace their individual style and figure out who they are as audiovisual authors,” says Ulla Simonen, director of AVEK.

“I hope that afterwards, we will go: ‘We have not seen that before.’ I hope we will encourage people to think differently.”

“When you are making your first serious project, the pressure can be overwhelming. We want to protect you. By giving our participants a large sum of money, by surrounding them with mentors, we want to create a safe environment. And later, they will be ready to face the world.”

Filmmakers and media artists can start to apply in September 2022. While Kehittämö isn’t restricted to Finnish citizens, the applicants will be expected to have a Finnish social security number.

“They can come out of the woods and apply,” says Simonen.

Ten projects will be selected and paired up with production companies during networking sessions. Later, an international panel – alongside AVEK and Finnish Cultural Foundation – will pick up the final five, representing any type of audiovisual work, from films to VR.

“We won’t be excluding anyone who has already received other funding, for example for scripts. We just need to see the potential.”

First results will be presented next year at the Finnish Film Affair, industry sidebar of Helsinki-based festival Love & Anarchy. The showcase will then continue annually.

“Venice’s Biennale College was an inspiration, or Sweden’s Wild Card scheme. We benchmarked those we thought were good and tried to take the best bits,” jokes Simonen.

“The big difference is that we won’t be there until the end. If someone is able to complete their project with this kind of money, we are not going to stop it. But after this, they are free to apply for any additional funding.”

The ultimate goal is to discover new artists, ones that would normally need to wait much longer to finally make their mark.

“Hanna Västinsalo [behind Venice’s ‘Palimpsest’] is a good example of that. Before [taking up filmmaking] she has been doing something completely different,” she notes.

“In Finland, it usually takes a while before you are able to make your first feature film, for example. We are hoping to speed up this process.”