Aid Kaurismäki is the face of Finnish cinema. The winner of the Grand Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 2002, he is a living legend in the Scandinavian country, which makes it all the stranger that last week he went into early retirement. After a government promise to raise film subsidies by US$1.6 million fell through, Kaurismäki, 50, and 22 other Finnish film producers put down their cameras and called a halt to all new cinematic production.
The threat of no new Finnish cinema hardly rallied the global film community; at Toronto’s International Film Festival, the wheeling and dealing carried on, and Hollywood’s record-breaking summer at the box office continued to make headlines. But in Finland, where domestic product makes up 24 per cent of all distributed films—up from four per cent a decade ago—the impact of a filmmakers’ strike could be significant.
There are about 200 movie theatres in Finland, located mainly in rural areas, and their survival hinges largely on homegrown films. “Due to weak funding of the Finnish film industry, some 50 small towns and communities are constantly on the verge of losing their cinemas,” said Tero Koistinen, the executive director of the Finnish Cinema Exhibitors’ Association. “A strike is an extreme solution,” says Raija Nurmio, executive director of the Finnish Film Distributors’ Association, “but with the long-lasting lack of funding, the producers’ frustration becomes very understandable.” Culture Minister Stefan Wallin thinks panic struck too soon. He said he still hopes to raise film subsidies by the promised US$1.6 million using revenue from the state lottery, but that first “all the needs of culture and art must be examined in a fair manner.” Meanwhile, striking producers can’t help but feel nervous. Kaurismäki’s 2006 picture Light in the Dusk sold 38,000 tickets domestically, compared to the 460,000 sold for Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. With Finnish moviegoers ready to gobble up American movies, this strike could very well have a Hollywood ending. M
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