Cinemaissí this year went far beyond the call of a film festival. How? Through a series of discussions about the representation of minority groups in film.
Why did we hold these discussions? The idea was to bring a wider audience to Cinemaissí, to show people the unifying power of film. Especially inspired by the selection by Artistic Director Carlos Marroquín, which “cast light on the transgression and the battle of the so-called minorities that raise their voices and demand to be heard”.
Cinemaissí not only brings Latin American film to Finland, it brings with it the issues and fights of those communities. And what really struck, when Carlos described the films, was the universality of the themes within. So, we thought, let’s bring together people living in Finland who are affected by the same struggles, let’s open up conversations on important topics, let’s create a space for people to express their own voice. And so it was born: ‘Cinema In Conversation’.
Here are the highlights of the four conversations and the persons involved who brought new levels of significance to the films and festival.
Kicking off the series on the first day of the festival, we put LGBTQ+ realities into the spotlight, with a discussion supported by Trasek ry, about the representation of transgender people in film. Relating to the powerful and intimate film ‘Bixa Travesty’, we brought together two performers; two people starring in film and two different perspectives on the struggle lived by transgender people.
A cocoon of intimacy and openness provided the perfect setting for a beautifully honest conversation between Jamie MacDonald, stand-up comedian and star of biopic “Manning Up”, and Kelet Ali, star of upcoming biopic ‘Kelet’.
Unclothing themselves and stereotypes of transgender people, both of them are facing the pressure of being in the public eye. Kelet, 22, admitted that only a few years ago she didn’t know what trans was, didn’t know how to put into words how she felt. Kelet hopes that people who were in the same stressful situation as her will feel relief in living how they want to, when they watch her documentary Kelet , coming out in January 2020. Her message was to “find your space. You’re not alone. You’re not an alien. Be you.”
Danilo Canguçu moderated a conversation that hit home to all audience and panel members, by magnifying the universal concern over the current rise of the far right, while looking at what can be done positively in these times of discrimination and threat. For Kelet, making a film, means creating visibility to show people they belong, but also humanising the unknown for people who are discriminatory. After all, discriminatory behaviour is a reaction, the right wing’s rhetoric speaks to people’s anxiety and fear. Here in Finland and in Brazil. “It’s important,'' said Jamie, “to get into TV, to get into people’s homes.” Jamie is conscious of the violence of exposing the trans body, but also sees it as important. “There’s still so much to be said and exposed”, it’s about normalising the body.
Aspiring filmmaker Tamara Aalto, led our second discussion celebrating the power of film to empower women. We brought together panelists to reflect on the feminist-themed films ‘Una Banda de Chicas’ and ‘El Despertar de las Hormigas’. In the same month as a report published by Plan International about the effect of film on ambitions of girls and young women, we asked the panelists about their experiences.
Anna Paavilainen, director and actress, talked of not experiencing as much difficulty as lived by previous filmmakers. She forms part of the new wave of female filmmakers, thanks to the meToo movement, which “changed everything”. Mari Mantela, director, was part of that media storm and one of the six writers of the Me Too book #MeToo-Vallankumous. “2017 changed the world and cracked the climate in Finland,'' confirmed Jenni Koski. Jenni, who faced difficulties in the beginning at film school, where it was as though “being a woman was a flaw”, is now ambitious, as the Chair of Women In Film & Television in Finland: “it’s not the problem of you, it’s society. It’s in the law to guarantee quality. We have to go higher. We will have quotas.”
In reaction to the emotive documentary about the position of female musicians in Argentina, we heard from the Finnish feminist rapper Adikia. In the beginning, Adikia was a “closet rapper” who took a lot of time to practice and build up the courage to “come out”. Support from male rappers and men in the music industry has been key to Adikia’s success, but more is needed for female rap to become mainstream. And how does Adikia see the Finnish rap scene in 10 years? “The future looks bright”, with a variety of voices already popping up and a market opening, waiting for the young women who will follow in the footsteps of current female rappers.
There is still so much to do in the fight for equality in the film industry. Mari hit home that the media plays a big role, as it serves this topic to the masses. Jenni emphasised the need for more successful female filmmakers and normal stories, not violent ones. While Anna championed the need for mentoring and solidarity between female actors.
Accompanied by an insightful message from Director Antonella Sudasassi about the position of women in the film industry in Costa Rica, this conversation could have flowed on into the night, as Mari Mantela reflected: ”there was a great energy in this event and it felt like we are making a difference talking about these topics.”
Eino Antonio, freelance filmmaker and journalist, led a conversation spanning the contexts of Brazil, Chile, Argentina, the UK and back home to Finland. The five panelists answered questions about their activism, how to react to problems faced in Finland and what they could take from the Amnesty International prize-winning documentary “Your Turn”; a dynamic film narrated by the student organisers of the protests and occupation movement provoked by government cuts in Brazil.
“When is activism necessary?” opened the third discussion in the series. “We need activism because we need to act now,'' said 16 year-old Extinction Rebellioner, Emma Ahlroos, who along with many other young people, has found her calling in the fight against climate change.
“I don’t believe there is a time when activism is not necessary”. Jenna Sorjonen, Education Policy Specialist at the Students’ Union of the University of Helsinki, believes in the systems in place that also amount to activism. The traditional set-ups can also work in creating change. For recently graduated preschool teacher Aleksi Vehmassalo, the importance of education is undeniable. Aleksi is teaching the youngest about democracy and how to be active.
“It’s time for a reevaluation of tactics for mass mobilisation,'' said Amos Wallgren, student activist, as he highlighted the shift in the 1970s to NGO-based action. A shift which created a different hierarchical structure of social movements, separating the government from charitable, human rights-focused organisation and therefore distancing the decision makers from the cause.
And so what is the importance of this film? Even in Finland? “Films like these tells us it’s ok to revolt” For documentary filmmaker Thomas William Poole, the passing of information, documenting through any lens or camera to send across the world, it educates people on how to be activists, how to react and it can connect people with other activists.
Documentary can unite. Discussions continued after the film screening at the festival and Amos Wallgren went on to organise a screening of the documentary for fellow activists at SitVas in Helsinki. If you want to educate and inspire through showing this film to a group, it is possible to do so by contacting the producers.
To discuss the representation of indigenous people in film, we brought together Rita Eloranta, linguist, Pirjo Virtanen, Chair of Indigenous Studies at the University of Helsinki, Roxana Crisólogo, Peruvian poet, cultural worker and founder of SivuValo, Jenni Kivistö, Finnish director, and Suvi West, Sámi director. Inspired by the two indigenous language films ‘Retablo’, which opened the festival, and ‘Pájaros de Verano’, the final conversation of the series opened with the shared appreciation of film, as a way of preserving history, knowledge and languages.
Not shying away from criticism and open to the thoughts of these knowledgeable panelists, it was extremely significant for the Cinemaissí team to hear how our film selection was not without fault. Sparked by Rita’s observations from the linguistic perspective that ’Retablo’ is an “outsider’s representation”, was a passionate discussion about the issues of representation of indigenous communities.
What became clear is that indigenous people should be given the tools to reclaim their own stories and make films in whatever style and about whatever subject they choose. Specifically describing the Finnish context for Sámi people, Suvi said that “we have no safe space” in the media. It’s currently a truly bad situation for Finnish Sámi, caused by oppression via land use and hate speech. What is more, Roxana highlighted the impossibility of a Sámi-language writer to belong to the Finnish writers’ association. “Indigenous cinema is a healing cinema”, “we make films for own people to be healed” and we empower them to make films, expressed Suvi West.
Collaboration with or foreign filmmakers making films about indigenous cultures is a question of power structures. The indigenous people have a lot to tell, with some more enthusiastic to share than others, but the filmmaker themselves must understand the objective of their filmmaking. Jenni Kivistö filmed “Maa Sisälläni” in an indigenous community in Colombia, based on how she connected with the community. Jenni’s clear aim and artistic direction was not disrespectful, agreed Suvi. In fact, Jenni not only chose to use the indigenous language Wayuu, but also the community’s way of storytelling, depicting a dream-like story to reflect the importance of dreams to the lives of these people.
What is needed is for minorities to create their own narratives, be stars of their own film and for these films to be out in the mainstream. We must put the responsibility back in the hands of the makers and the market. We as an audience must demand new cinema.
This demand spans all the fights of minorities discussed in Cinema In Conversation. We at Cinemaissi vow to provide this for audiences in Finland and welcome you to join us, to challenge yourself and to change the world through film.
Thank you for your participation in Cinema in Conversation 2019:
Eino Antonio, Tamara Aalto, Rita Eloranta, Danilo Cangucu, Jamie Macdonald, Kelet Ali, Anna Paavilainen, Mari Mantela, Kirsikka Ruohonen, Jenni Koski, Emma Ahlroos, Amos Wallgren, Jenna Sorjonen, Thomas William Poole, Aleksi Vehmassalo, Pirjo Virtanen, Roxana Crisólogo, Jenni Kivistö and Suvi West.
Thank you for your support in the creation of Cinema in Conversation:
The whole Cinemaissi Board, Team and Volunteers, Johanna Rissinen and the staff at Caisa Cultural Centre, Satu Pulkkinen, (WIFT), Sonja Kuittinen, Jorma Lehtola (Skábmagovat), Kerttu Tarjamo, (Seta ry), Anna Haapalainen (Trasek ry), Olga Palo, Tuomas Saikkonen, Nina Sini & Maiju Ristkari (Sukupuolinen Ihminen Project)
Special mention: Andy Smith & Denise Bell (smith+bell design)
Text: Katie Bell, Cinemaissí 2019 Events Coordinator
Cover image: Ninni Karjalainen
LGBTQ+ Realities: Tommi Kervinen
Female Empowerment: Adán Mendoza
Youth Voice: Ninni Karjalainen
Indigenous Cultures: Ida Pajakari