INTERVIEW / FILM

Maria Sødahl, Selma Vilhunen on the impact of Covid-19

24 APRIL 2020

Maria Sødahl Selma Vilhunen / PHOTO: Agnete Brun Cata Portin 001

The two acclaimed directors share their thoughts on how the pandemic is affecting their lives, the industry and our shared humanity.

Maybe it is a time to be quiet, to pay attention, to be observant. It seems almost inappropriate to miss this moment.

MARIA SØDAHL

MARIA SØDAHL, Writer/director, Norway

Maria Sødahl had her international breakthrough with her debut feature Limbo, for which she won a Best Director Award at the Montreal World Film Festival 2010.

Her sophomore feature Hope starring Stellan Skarsgård and Andrea Bræin Hovig world premiered at Toronto’s Discovery section in 2019. The real-life drama based on the director’s own experience has received rave reviews and won the Europa Cinema Label Award at the last Berlinale. Sødahl’s next film with the working title Man Watching, is about a 20 year-old woman embarking on a ‘modern educational journey’ to find her own identity.

As a filmmaker, how do you experience social distancing and living in a confined space? MS: I had just returned from the Berlinale, when the pandemic hit us with its existential threat. I was supposed to start writing my new project and the following quarantine could have become the ideal ‘climate’ to get creative. Instead I lost focus, found myself living in this unprecedented event in our lifetime, watching and reflecting on exactly what our function is - what we, as filmmakers, are for. I thought, maybe it is a time to be quiet, to pay attention, to be observant. It seems almost inappropriate to miss this moment.

How do you experience suspended time - not knowing when filmmaking, life in general will go back to ‘normal’? MS: Strangely, I find that coping with Covid-19 - uncertainty - have clear parallels to dealing with a cancer threat. It requires similar survival skills as it becomes crucial to stay optimistic, no matter how bad the present is and the future looks. It is not an exercise for beginners and I feel sorry for the younger generation. My only comfort is that we are all in this together - dealing with the bizarre reality and trying to find a ‘new normal’. What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on our shared humanity? MS: When we eventually step clear of this moment, we will probably have discovered things about our leaders, our societal systems, our friends, our enemies and most of all, ourselves. We will know something of our resilience, our capacity for forgiveness, and our mutual vulnerability. But although everyone knows what stands at risk, history mostly shows our inability to learn by our mistakes. I feel naïve when hoping for democratic global action, dealing for real with the climate crisis and the social inequalities in our world.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on the film & TV industry? MS: Things will change for sure, but I have no idea of how dramatic the effects will be. Which stories will become relevant? Will recession and increasing competition bring an extreme situation of ‘the survival of the fittest’? Will theatrical distribution hardly exist? Will arthouse cinema survive? It is an unbearable idea if we no longer can share the collective experience in a movie theatre.

How do you feel about watching films only on television? MS: I truly miss the big screen.

Can you cite two films watched recently? MS: To Our Loves by Maurice Pialat and Toni Erdmann by Maren Ade.


SELMA VILHUNEN, Writer/director/producer, Finland

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Maria Sødahl, Selma Vilhunen on the impact of Covid-19

Selma Vilhunen / PHOTO: Cata Portin

Selma Vilhunen was Academy-award nominated for the short film Do I Have to Take Care of Everything (2014). Her debut feature Little Wing attended close to 50 international festivals and won the 2017 Nordic Council Film Prize. Her documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution won Best Documentary in its category at the local Jussi Awards in 2018. Vilhunen’s second fiction film Stupid Young Heart won the Crystal Bear-Best Youth Film from Berlin’s Generation 14+ section in 2019.

The director made her debut in TV drama with the 10x20’ comedy series Carpe Fcking Diem, co-directed with Kirsikka Saari, about two best female friends in their 30s, who take a year off from their daily routine and go wild.

Vilhunen is preparing her next feature film with the working title Four Little Adults, about a married couple, a secret lover-turned known lover, and a future lover, who agree to polyamory to avoid further heartbreak. The series premiered last March on MTV3/C More. Vilhunen is also co-founder of Tuffi Films.

As a filmmaker, how do you experience social distancing and living in a confined space?
SV:
When it comes to working, I am very lucky as not so much has changed for me during this lockdown. I am writing a new screenplay and I was already spending a lot of time alone with my text.

On the other hand, every other week, when I have my daughter with me, helping her with school, fixing all the meals and making sure we both get at least some exercise it taxes my writing quite a bit. It has been an adapting process.

As a human being, social distancing has taken me through myriad emotions. When something is dramatically restricted a lot of things come to surface that have been taken for granted. I now realize how much small everyday encounters mean to me, and how much of what is "I", consists of interaction with other people. Sometimes it is almost as if I don't exist when I'm not able to touch people, and look them in the eye.

How do you experience suspended time - not knowing when filmmaking, life in general will go back to ‘normal’?
SV:
What I anticipate most is my kid's school to start again. I worry about her not being able to see her friends and play with them every day. Of course I also hope that film productions can get running as soon as possible, and production companies and cinemas will get back on their feet without too much damage. But for some reason I'm not so worried about my own filmmaking, not yet. I believe that this situation will shift eventually and I will be fine until then.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on our shared humanity?
SV: I definitely hope there will be an impact. In fact, I don't wish for things to go back to normal. I hope that we can use this momentum and make changes in the way we live. I want to quote a Finnish future researcher Roope Mokka who said that the coronavirus crisis has revealed what we are capable of as humankind: we can close our borders and schools and businesses almost overnight. We can totally reorganise our health care to be able to treat the sick. We are more powerful than we thought we were, and we should now come together, use this energy and take it a step further.

Covid-19 is not going to be the only crisis we are going to face in the near future. Problems with economic inequality, refugees moving in masses, possible new pandemics and the climate change - which is connected to all of these are challenges - will all need our immediate action. The negative prospect is that countries will fall into a huge economic depression where the gap between the rich and the poor will only get deeper, and populism will flourish.

Another somewhat troubling phenomenon is the connection between governments and technology companies who design technology for mass surveillance. This time is in many ways a turning point and we need to pay attention to everything that is going on.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on the film & TV industry?
SV:
I hope that the one thing we can take from this crisis is cutting down our carbon imprint. Working from home has become a new normal, and events and even festivals are happening online. As much as I love meeting people in person and getting to know different cultures, I think the time is over when we can justify our own travelling everywhere and anytime. In our company Tuffi Films we have taken this time to look into more ecological ways of filmmaking in all its aspects and we are soon going to publish our eco strategy.

How do you feel about watching films only on television?
SV:
I do miss the cinema, but I can live a few months without. I am actually very bad at watching TV! That may change once I finally get a couch in my apartment, though.

Can you cite two films watched recently?
SV:
During the Easter holiday my daughter and I watched Howl's Moving Castle by Hayao Miyazaki and Life of Brian by Monty Python. The former is one of my daughter's favourites and the latter was part of my parenting programme. I'm very happy that she liked it. It's amazing how well that movie has aged.

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