‘We Need to Dare to Make Change’: New Nordic Narratives Lab Looks to Rewrite Script for Finnish Drama

‘We Need to Dare to Make Change’: New Nordic Narratives Lab Looks to Rewrite Script for Finnish Drama

September 15, 2022

The Finnish Film Affair, a showcase for new films from the host country and the Nordics, will for the first time feature TV dramas at this year’s event, which runs parallel to the Helsinki International Film Festival — Love & Anarchy (HIFF).

Alongside the 26 feature film and documentary projects being presented to industry guests during an onstage event on Sept. 22 will be a curated selection of four TV drama series from Finland. “This is something that both the local industry and our international guests have frequently requested from us,” said Maria Pirkkalainen, director of Finnish Film Affair.

“We already piloted highlighting a few selected Finnish TV series in 2019 to great feedback and feel like now is the right time to continue this, especially with a record number of international guests joining us here in Helsinki.”

The four selected projects are in the early development stage, each with the backing of a Finnish broadcaster already secured. Ahead of the showcase, the shows’ creators are taking part in a workshop with New Nordic Narratives, a holistic lab focused on sustainability and inclusion.

According to the lab’s creators, scriptwriter Valeria Richter and producer Helene Granqvist, the goal of New Nordic Narratives is to build on the traditional model of a project development lab by helping to redefine the role of filmmakers and series creators as “change agents” whose impact can go far beyond the screen.

In particular, that means putting an emphasis during the development stage on sustainable production practices and on finding ways to make those productions more inclusive. It also means taking steps to engage the audience on a deeper level — to understand “story structures and how they relate to the widening audience groups that are out there, and how we are talking to them,” according to Granqvist.

“We’re not only doing this because we think it’s super important,” she added. “We also think it’s something that really connects us, filmmakers, to the audience and to the surrounding world.”

The creative teams have already had two virtual meetings with Richter and Granqvist, both veteran pitching and script coaches, and will meet twice more in Helsinki before taking the stage on Sept. 22.

The goal of bringing them together, said the lab’s creators, is to create a “safe space” for conversations that don’t always find a place at industry events. “When we have this room with four projects and their filmmakers, and we facilitate the space to discuss this, a lot of things happen in that room,” said Granqvist.

Things have never looked healthier for the booming Finnish TV business. According to the Audiovisual Producers Finland (APFI), more than 30 Finnish series will be released this year, a 20% uptick from 2018. That’s partly a reflection of global trends, as competition among domestic and international streaming platforms continues to drive demand for new content. The introduction of a 25% cash rebate in 2017, too, has brought foreign investment into the industry, raising production budgets and spurring a surge in new shows.

That rapid growth, coupled with wider societal shifts, convinced Richter and Granqvist that now is the time for the Finnish industry to rethink the entire ecosystem of how shows are developed, produced, distributed and marketed — an ecosystem, they say, that’s based on “outdated models.” “Part of that is also to question the things that we take for granted,” said Richter.

“We need to dare to try things to make change,” said Granqvist. She admits, however, that the questions being asked of filmmakers — as well as average global citizens in their everyday lives — are “confusing as hell.”

In order to confront the mounting challenges presented not only by climate change, but by ongoing efforts to create more equitable societies, she asked if there’s a way to “stay in this confusion, but also decide to be conscious” of how we respond to it.

“That became something very important for us — not being afraid of topics that confuse us, and [for which] we don’t have answers,” she said. “It’s big, alarming questions. But what if we dare to let them be present in the room, and decide together to be conscious and…[ask] what can we do? Is there any space for action? What kind of stories do we want to tell?”

“Our starting point for New Nordic Narratives is the holy grail of artistic freedom,” added Richter. “But it’s about getting these different gazes and tools that we can look from more angles at our projects.”

New Nordic Narratives has already run two successful labs: one alongside the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in Estonia last November, and a second during New Nordic Films, the premier event for Scandinavian cinema, which took place in Haugesund, Norway, in August. Part of the aim, said the organizers, is to take the conversation beyond just the filmmakers who participate in the lab and to include key industry decision-makers.

“We network with all the main industry events in the Nordics,” said Granqvist. “We have these melting pots where the industry meets, and to have this topic on the agenda, to make it normal to talk about these things, is part of our strategy.”

The response, she added, has been overwhelmingly positive. “We do believe that we are onto something that is really lacking in our industry.”

The Finnish Film Affair takes place Sept. 21 – 23.

Here are the four projects selected for New Nordic Narratives at this year’s Finnish Film Affair:

Maria Lizelia

Broadcaster: Svenska Yle Drama

Creator: Ulrika Bengts 

Co-writer: Hanna Åkerfelt

Logline: It’s 1759 and the young midwife Maria Lizelia is faced with an unexpected choice. Should she stay true to the letter of the law, or to its spirit? A woman’s life is at stake.

What Bengts says: “We are not spoiled with drama series about women’s work and professional identity. Even less so when it comes to depictions of midwives, although questions of sexuality, pregnancy, abortion, childbirth and infertility affect all women, and by extension most men. Expecting a child puts one’s life on its end. With the action set in the mid-1700s, when the risks of childbirth were much greater than today, the stakes are raised and the drama intensifies. Even if the 1700s differs from our own time the theme is painfully topical. A women’s right to her own body is still a contentious question.”

Spiral

Broadcaster: Yle Drama

Producer: Oskari Sipola

Producer-writer: Ronja Haikka

Head writer: Tua Harno

Co-writer: Maaria Nuoranne

Logline: Tove wants to be an Olympic figure skater even if she has to sell drugs to get there, but her new coach Miia won’t let her get away with her lies.  

What Haikka says: “I competed in different individual sports throughout my youth. I learned to recognize the importance of the connection between a coach and a young athlete. This delicate relationship is emphasized especially in individual sports, like figure skating. I learned myself that trust between a coach and an athlete often relates with success. The athlete’s determination to win with uncritical blind trust can [open the door to] potential abuse. In our series, we see two vastly different coach-athlete relationships through our protagonist Tove. The series offers an opportunity to examine the will to win, growing up, and the power dynamics between a coach and athlete.”

Under the Clock

Broadcaster: Elisa Viihde

Producer: Tiina-Mari Pitkänen

Head writer: Katri Manninen

What Manninen says: “‘Under the Clock’ (working title) is a drama set in the 1960s. It follows four young friends as they break free from their families’ expectations and search and find their identity and own voice. This is the first show I’m creating as a showrunner, working shoulder to shoulder with producer Tiina-Mari Pitkänen. Our mission is to make a safe, innovative and sustainable production with the motto, ‘How can we do this in a smarter way?’ It all starts with the script development process that is inspired and guided by the production’s demands. We’re especially happy to be developing the series with Elisa Viihde, who chose our project for this lab, and who is active in advancing sustainable production.”

Monster

Broadcaster: Svenska Yle Drama

Creator: Eva-Maria Koskinen 

Producer: Jussi Rantamäki (Aamu Film Company)

Further details to follow.

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