Mika Kaurismaki: Against all odds
Oana Stopariu for isolacinema.org
The film selection at the first edition of Izola`s Film Festival was a unique combination of films with different approaches and locations. The music of Brazil, Russian or Iranian realities are some of the subjects presented alongside the retrospective of Slovenian films. Globalization, present in every corner of the world, and cosmopolitism find themselves at home in Izola, a small coastal town on the Adriatic shore.
For five days films dominated the atmosphere of the town. Cinema theatres were full enough and Slovenian visitors questioned directors about their films without reservation - a good sign concerning the future of this festival. Without an enthusiast audience to follow the projections that started at 10 o’clock in the morning and lasted until the cold hours of the night in the open-air cinema in the Manzioli square, such an event would have had all odds against it.
Beside the thundering names, the glamour of big production, cinephils knew how to appreciate the responsibility and willingness of the directors to share their experience and their feelings. Now that the future is no longer a problem for Izola`s Festival of African, Asian, Latin American and Eastern European Cinema with Friends, we have reached its end. With guests like Mika Kaurismaki, Shaji N. Karun, Girish Kasaravalli, Muzaffar Ali, Moussa Sene Absa, Apichatpong Weerasathekul or Asa Mader, the first edition could only go beyond expectations.
Mika Kaurismaki is one of a kind in the guild of directors. In 20 years of career he managed to produce surprise with each of his productions - through the risks he naturally takes. He takes no easy ways out and his films are created with a unique style. The Finish director took every possible film-making path to serve a single purpose - to give the film the authenticity of a documentary even though the characters and plot are closer to the realm of fiction. Mika Kaurismaki`s films filled with parts of life and its natural places and spaces which he doesn’t re-create in an artificial reconstruction.
“Sounds of Brazil” documentary was made by Kaurismaki in 2002 at the suggestion of Arte television producers - the same team that financed Wim Wender`s “Buena Vista Social Club”. Hans Robert Eisenhauer of Arte contacted Mika Kaurismaki to make a documentary about Brazilian music. Ten years spent in brazil helped Kaurismaki to immortalize images with sociological thoroughness - his film doesn’t merely reproduce the sound of music. Hundreds of hours of film have been recorded and it was truly difficult to slash this down to a hundred minutes of the final version. Personal style and Kaurismaki’s unique vision mark this film, revealing the problems of society that lives the extremes with the music as its narrative thread.
Ever since the adolescence spent in the small town of Kuovola, in south-east of Finland, he was enchanted by the charms of the seventh art. The mirage of the cinema and later the discovery that behind all the stories there is a director, guided his footsteps toward the Munchen Film School. Mika Kaurismaki was not alone anymore and besides - his very brother Aki has put Finland on the cinematographic map. Producer, director, screenwriter and actor, Mika Kaurismaki couldn’t stay away from editing and it was these foundations that helped him to keep the freedom he needs for his personal expressions. Open-minded and with a fine sense of humor, Mika Kaurismaki is not afraid of taking risks and his films are the expression of a restless search where the journey is more important than the destination.
The road suits the traveler and so Mika Kaurismaki has traveled to Slovenia. During a summer holiday, spent with the family, Mika Kaurismaki visited Izola.
Why this fascination with Brazil of all places?
MK: Well, somehow I’ve always read about Rio de Janiero when I was a kid. You know, it was a magic sound for me - I like the name: Rio de Janeiro. I’ve always wanted to go there and I finally went there in 1988 for a festival with my film “Helsinki Napoli All Night Long”, which was released in the cinemas and you know - I’m still on this trip. It’s very different from Europe, it has something. It’s not a country, it’s a continent. Of course, I like the weather, the nature and the music and the people, because they are beautiful.
Then you try to lose yourself in a place that isn’t common for you?
MK: Also, yes. Finland is a very small country. In Helsinki everybody knows me, it’s nice but… I mean everybody knows each other. The film community is very small, so it’s nice to be in a place where nobody knows you. I only live in Brazil, I don’t have contact with filmmakers, I have some friends, but I never participate… I’m like incognito. As a film director it’s interesting, you have so many stories on the streets all the time. Finland is plain and people don’t show any emotions on the streets, they keep their problems inside, in the houses. When they go on the street, they don’t show anything. In Brazil, you’ve got people living on the streets and talking a lot, sometimes too much. It’s funny, Finland, as a Nordic country, has the highest suicide rate and it’s one the richest countries in the world. Brazil is one of the poorest and nobody wants to die - they get killed, but it has a low suicide rate. It’s funny! Maybe it’s only statistics. You have two extremes, but in a way it’s very nice to be there. Very simple people also - like in Finland. I like Japan and I like India, fascinating countries, but I wouldn’t like to live there. You know, Brazil is very easy.
So are you questioning yourself? In Finland they are talking about you like a legend, a master, and you just said they are very good in statistics, they try to capture you in words. Isn’t it a little bit overwhelming also?
MK: I haven’t live there for years. I’ve only went to visit. And my brother is there, so it’s enough, you know. It`s a small country, first you go to a bar, they say how fantastic and great you are, and after some ten beers they call you a piece of shit.
You`re always doing road-movies, you only shoot on locations. What did you discover about yourself in all those trips?
MK: I don`t see myself as a filmmaker, but as an anthropologist. That`s why I make films and why I decided not to become a famous filmmaker. I do road-movies because I shoot on location. Even if it`s a feature film, it`s still a documentary for me. I go to different places and discover some things and I hope to learn something from the places, from the films. It`s just to find a way to try to understand this mistery of the world, of life. I hate being a film director, actually. I think it`s an absolutely overrated profession.
Because it feels a little bit like being God in your own small universe?
MK: Yes. That is annoying, because there are so many much more important professions.
So, all those things you`re doing, producing, editing, shooting with the camera. Do they help you to keep your freedom?
MK: Yes! I think so.
Or is it just a way to avoid boredom?
MK: Also, I`m very curious. I had some offers from Hollywood and I would have a limousine and a lot of money and clean food, but this doesn`t interesting me much. I rather stay in Brazil. Maybe everything I do, I do from curiosity. Actually, I hate movie business, I mean all this actors and actresses and Hollywood, a lot of attention, all this about a job… And you know there are a lot of problems in the world and you write about this. Of course, I think movies are important, but not that important.
With each of your films you managed to avoid the first obvious choice – a choice for a life of a director which would probably go for money or glamour. How important was the film school for you?
MK: Film school was very good for me. I mean, it`s like chemistry, like a film festival: if you meet good people, it`s a good one. My time in Munchen was very good. I had a very good class with very different people, it was a very inspiring time. But I know for instance that the year before us, most of the people didn`t do film, but our class is very active and we are still making movies. So it was great for me. One of my colleagues for instance is Ron Emmerich, who is in Hollywood now, and many others. I`ve made a lot of movies, but small movies all the time. We didn`t go to the courses very often, only the film history. I mean the cinema and the film archive was the school for me. When I was in school, I used to go to the film archive at least once a day to see old movies, and once a week I went to see a new movie. I think I saw 400-500 films a year during school and I`ve always wrote down what I saw. I had a huge notebook of films I saw, but my mother threw the book away when I was living elsewhere.
Do you enjoy going to film festivals?
MK: Normally, I don`t like festivals. You become a part of the machine. They show film in Berlin or in Cannes, but it`s just a platform to release the films next week. That`s why I like small film festivals. If I go to a film festival, normally I`d go to a small one. This is why I`m here, in Izola. This is why we have our own film festival in Lapland, Midnight Sun Film Festival. Me and my brother, we were invited to many film festivals around the world, we’ve had nice hotels, nice transportations, cocktail parties and we knew that there may be Pedro Almodovar, Ken Loach or David Lynch in the same hotel, but we`ve never met. Because they kept us apart, they tried to separate us. I don`t know why. Maybe because the ones that organize a film festival don`t love cinema, I don`t know. This is why we have our own film festival in Lapland, above the Artic Circle and if somebody wants to come there it has to like movies, because it`s very hard to get there. And everybody there is on the same level, the audience, the journalists. You can go there and talk to Francis Ford Coppola on the street while eating a sausage. It started more like a joke and we said that we`ll do it for a couple of years and now, next year we`ll celebrate 20 editions. They tried to stop us many times. Of course somebody has to organize it, but what makes a festival is the audience. Big festivals don`t have any audience. We can`t stop our festival now, because the audience keeps coming there. Sodankyla is small town with 3,000 people, but we sell 20,000 tickets in five days, we show films 24 hours a day, from 6 o`clock in the morning. I don`t know if people go to sleep in the cinemas, but this is great. People are asking about this festival now, like Coen brothers, they called us, Copolla doesn`t want to miss it. Because, you know, filmmakers of course like the attention, they like the industry, they like the money, but they also like to talk with the audience and with a small film festival you can have the luxury to be on the same level with them. In a big festival, all the journalists and critics are there only to criticize the films, but in a small festival they enjoy the films the same way.
How important is for you to share your work with other filmmakers? You`ve made a film with Jim Jarmusch, you worked with your brother. Most of the time there is this duality going on with you.
The film business is very tough and it`s good to have some kind of a family at work. And I`m talking about my brother, Wim Wenders, or other filmmakers that are a part of this family. We keep in touch and it helps us survive in this business. Because there are so many people that I don`t have contact with, but I think you need this. And we know, you find the people you deserve.