Little Wing, the directorial debut of Oscar nominee Selma Vilhunen Do I Have to Take Care of Everything, just premiered in Toronto and opens this Friday September 23 in Finland. The film focuses on 12 year-old Varpu who sets on the road in search of her father when her neurotic single mother takes a new boyfriend. 

How personal is the story of Little Wing?
Selma Vilhunen: It is quite personal, with elements inspired by my own background as I grew up alone with my mum. That very special relationship is something I believe many people can relate to. It’s about sharing a world that no one else knows. The situation can be joyful but also painful when the gap between two generations becomes almost non-existent.

Would you say that the film is a coming of age for 12 year-old Varpu (newcomer Linnea Skog) and for her mother [singer/actress Paula Vesala) as both go through a personal journey during the film…
SV: Yes that’s true. The mother has a chance to grow as well. At the beginning of the film, she is in a difficult financial and emotional situation, which makes her a bit hopeless. But at the end, she gets her act together.

The roles of parent and child are blurred as Varpu has to fend for herself while her parents struggle with their roles as carers. But you show compassion to all your characters and make them simply human… 
SV: At the end we are just alone in the universe, but once we accept that, we can connect with other people and accept who we are and who other people are without too much demand.

How did you work with the young Linnea Skog who gave an outstanding performance as Varpu?
I cast her in spring 2015 and we started shooting late October the same year. During the summer we rehearsed a lot, especially with Paula Vesala who plays her mother and Lauri Maijala who plays the father. We tried different techniques and did improvisations to create a closeness between the three of them and get them into the characters. Linnea was simply very good and working with her wasn’t so different from working with professional actors. But her father and her grand-father were actors, so she grew up in an acting environment. 

What were the main challenges on the film?
The tight shooting schedule was quite a challenge so I had to find ways not to feel the stress, and to prioritise all the time. But I had a fantastic crew and that helped me a lot. For instance cinematographer Tuomo Hutri was just amazing. I also had a great first assistant director who took care of the crazy schedule so I could just focus on directing. The film had also quite a few technical challenges…

The driving sequences with Varpu must have been tricky…
Yes and in fact almost no character in the film drive for real. Even Lauri Maijala doesn’t have a driving licence so we needed a process trailer for the camera.

Little Wing was produced by Making Movies, although you have your own production company Tuffi Films. Why didn’t you produce it yourself?
I started working on the film in 2006 with Making Movies, so when we finally came close to production, it just felt natural to stay with them.

Your company Tuffi Films is an all-female business. Just a coincidence?
SV: It’s more about people who connect and share ideas about how to make films. We just happen to be women.

What’s the status on your documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution, about teenage girls who discover their own voice through riding and grooming toy horses?
SV: We are editing right now and hope to complete it by the end of the year.

Your next feature Stupid Young Heart that was pitched at Haugesund’s Co-production market also deals with teenagers faced with early adult responsibilities. You seem to have a predilection for that transitional stage in life…
As parents we have to teach our kids, but I feel that we have to listen to teenagers as they have quite a lot to teach us as well. I love their energy and there must me a teen still very alive in me! 

You were just selected for Toronto’s Discovery programme with Juho Kuosmanen (The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki). Do you feel there is a generational shift in Finland?
Yes I’m so happy for our company and Juho Kuosmanen’s production company Aamu Film for the attention our films are getting around the world. I feel there are many young entrepreneurial producers in Finland who make good internationally-oriented films. I’m very positive about Finnish film right now.