Birthplace: At the end of Neitsytpolku, Helsinki.
Family: A daughter and a girlfriend.
Education: Film director.
My three favourite Finnish films are… Valkoinen peura (“The White Reindeer”), Kauas pilvet karkaavat (“Drifting Clouds”) and Talvisota (“The Winter War”). Those are just some that came into my mind now.
I relax by… exercising. Though I prefer to call it ‘cheering myself up’!
I’m annoyed by… people who only look behind to the past and not forward to the future.

Director Peter Lindholm’s latest film offers Finnish society pause for thought.

FinLAND-Swedish film director, producer and scriptwriter Peter Lindholm is known for such films as Kites over Helsinki, Three in Love and Kill City, while also producing several TV-series as well.

Not seeing himself as a typical Finland-Swede, the 51-year-old director feels more that he belongs to a minority within a minority. His true mother tongue is the language of film, a dialect that he has retained from his youth.

Lindholm sees his new film, Där vi en gång gått (“Where We Once Went”) as a very timely production that he hopes will make people question the culturally introverted stance increasingly taken by factions of Finnish society at present. Based on Kjell Westö’s hugely popular, Finlandia Prize-winning novel about humanity and love in the tumultuous Helsinki of the early 1900s, the film has just been released in cinemas around the country.

SixDegrees sat down with Lindholm to hear about his childhood dreams of becoming a footballer, working with acclaimed author Kjell Westö and current attitudes towards the changing face of Finnish society.

What did you want to be when you were young?

A football player. Football and filmmaking were the two things that I had always been interested in. When I was lying down on the football field and had my knee messed up, I realised I couldn’t continue. I was sixteen. Since my knee had failed me, I was left to pursue filmmaking earlier than I had expected.

Do you think Finn-Swedes have a harder time getting noticed in the Finnish film industry?

It’s hard for me to answer to that, as when I was starting out, I was more of a footballer wanting to make films, than a Finn-Swede wanting to make films. Next to the problematic Taistolaiset (extremist communists of the ‘70s) I blended in pretty easily. In the end films have their own language, which I think overrides whatever language the actors are speaking. Even though it is probably easier to be a Finnish-speaking director, I don’t think being a Finnish-Swede has ever posed any problems during my career.

When you’re planning on making a film in Swedish, are you doing it in a mindset that your target audience is Swedish-speaking?

No, not at all. When I direct I don’t think what the target audience might be. It becomes an issue only at the point of marketing. When making a film, I don’t go about emphasising certain aspects of the story or changing my original vision of the film according to what the target audience may be. One should never do things according to what he or she thinks others would go about doing it. Ideas should be put into action in their most original and pure form possible, and shouldn’t be influenced by the fear of what others may think of it.

What made you choose Kjell Westö’s novel?

It actually didn’t go that way; producers had chosen to make a film about Westö’s novel and were looking for a director. They contacted me, and after a long time of consideration I decided to take up the job.

Why did it take you so long to decide?

I was doubtful of the assignment, as Westö’s novel is quite a big piece of work. As words and images are two different modes of art, there’s a lot of work in translating them from one form to another. It is obviously much easier to convert a slim book into a film, but Westö’s book is massive; people come and go as history moves on, making the task of conversion an enormous and time-consuming project to be taken up. It is not just about getting all the relevant information in, but it is hard to make the end result match your expectations. I’m actually very pleased with how the film turned out. To be honest, I spent an entire weekend just to form my own opinion of the film!

Keeping an eye on the situation. Lindholm sees Finnish society increasingly becoming resistent to multiculturalism.

How much did Kjell Westö influence the making of the film?

He usually doesn’t get involved in the actual making of the film. As the script was written by a Swede, Jimmy Karlsson – who managed to do a great job with the script – Kjell went through the text correcting some of the language for it to fit to the historical context better. The Swedish spoken in Finland a hundred years ago can be quite different from the ‘Swedish Swedish’ of today. Although Kjell has not seen the ready version [at the time of interview], he saw the unpolished version of the film a few months ago and was very satisfied with the result. I had worked with him earlier as well, and he is a very nice person to work with; we had absolutely no problems getting along.

How long did the filming take?

About half a year, though we weren’t filming every day. I’ve counted that I’ve been working on this particular film for over two years, one-and-a-half of which I’ve spent every day, weekends included, on the planning and making of this film. During that period I don’t think I had a single day off the project.

The auditions for this film took about six months. The script had been under work for a long time before my arrival. Getting the groundwork done is always the most time consuming part, and rightly so, as it is the most crucial part of making a film. I had no ready actors for the film when I read the script. To pick the most suitable actors, we had several rounds of auditions and I watched many films keeping an eye for possible candidates, and invited some people I had met or seen before to audition. I think we turned over every rock in town to find the most apt actors. All the main actors we chose had to go through a very rigorous process of selection. I must have seen several hundred actors during those six months!

Were there historical issues in the film that you felt were important to bring forth?

I’d say that the film is generally more focused on human relations than on historical events. People should reflect upon it themselves, as with all films it is open for interpretation. I’ll just say that actions have consequences; people cannot simply wash their hands and forget about them. I feel that the story is a very timely topic considering the recent shift in politics and society, even though the story takes place a hundred years ago. I don’t want to start discussing politics, but I think it is important that the film is coming out at this particular period and I hope the issues it deals with will be taken seriously so that they won’t keep sliding to the wrong direction.

All people are the same in the end, in principle, be they Christians, Muslims, upper class or working class. We aren’t different from people a hundred years ago – only they didn’t have cell phones. We all have hopes and dreams, needs to satisfy our hunger, to go to the toilet; peoples’ lives are the same irrespective of the time or place in which they live. Culture provides only some small differentiated accents, but does not change the truly inherent. Culture gives only an outer shell, but inside we are all the same.

From upper class, to the lower classes, no Finnish is spoken in the film, was this an important element?

I would never have directed this film to be in Finnish, as it had such a strong Finnish-Swedish background. It always depends on the context; I wouldn’t arbitrarily decide the language. This particular film was constructed so that the Finnish-speaking people would speak Swedish with a stronger Finnish accent. The Swedish-speaking people in the countryside would then again speak Swedish in their own local dialects. Those who know Swedish well enough can make a distinction between the different accents.

“We aren’t different from people a
hundred years ago – only they
didn’t have cell phones.”

The film sees Swedish-speaking Finns scattered around all classes, from the working class to the upper class. It is important for people to understand that Finnish-Swedes were not only upper-class people, but would populate the lower classes as well. There were Swedish-speaking Finns working at the port just as well as Finnish speaking Finns in high governmental positions. The stereotype of Finn-Swedes being an upper class people is only a false image.

Do you think it is important that Finns of today should be able to speak Swedish well? Is Swedish becoming endangered as the second language of Finland?

Finland is a part of the Nordic countries and the culture; therefore, it is a shame that this shift away from learning it is taking place. I hope that at least the civilised part of the society is able to realise its importance and continues learning it. I don’t mind the fact that many don’t really speak it; it is their own choice.

Instead of seeing the country’s bilingualism in a negative way, it should be seen as a strength that brings richness to our culture. Finnish history is crammed with important Finnish-Swedish people, just as well as Finnish-speaking people. I see it as quite nearsighted that such a strength for a country is under the threat of demise. There is also the language of the Sami people in the north. Finland shouldn’t close itself up.

Helsinki used to be a very international city until the Soviet rule transformed the capital into being more closed. Now I see Finland becoming more introverted again, and its closing circles minimising its potential. This is a weird strategy of people who are afraid of the future, and I definitely think it is harmful for Finland.

I wish to see Finland as an outward and forward looking country, whose multiculturalism would be seen as a strength, not as something that should be done away with. What is happening now in Finnish politics and society could be just a passing phase, it’s difficult to say, but the film is definitely a timely one, and I hope it will make people think about the message it brings, coming from a hundred years ago. Hopefully people will begin to really think of what they say and do.

Där vi en gång gått is released on 28 October.
Svenska veckan is celebrated from 31 October until 6 November.

Jenni Toriseva
Photos Tomas Whitehous