Sara Johnsen and Juho Kuosmanen on the impact of Covid-19

16 APRIL 2020

Sara Johnsen, Juho Kuoasmanen / PHOTO: Fourandahalf, K Kuvaamo

We’ve asked internationally acclaimed Nordic filmmakers to discuss their experience of time, space and humanity under Covid-19.

Sara Johnsen, writer/director, Norway
Sara Johnsen won earlier this year the Nordisk Film & TV Fond Prize-Best Nordic Screenplay for the NRK series 22 July, co-created with director Pål Sletaune.

She had her international breakthrough with the feature debut Kissed by Winter nominated for the 2005 Nordic Council Film Prize. She wrote and directed Upperdog, All that Matters is Past and Framing Mum and was additional writer on the TV series Occupied.

She is currently working on a new feature project, which just received support from the Norwegian Film Institute’s talent programme VIP (Vekst i prosjekt). “It is a story from the near future,” says Johnsen. “Norway has changed into a society where one must take into account everyone's needs and at the same time avoid anyone being offended.”

Johnsen is also the author of the novels White Man, and He Knows Something She Can Try.

As a filmmaker, how do you experience social distancing and living in a confined space?
Sara Johnsen: At the beginning I felt fine, because I thought: “Ok this is a good time for writing and thinking and actually it’s not so different from what I’m used to.” But now it starts being harder and I’m thinking instead: “As long a we are not ill and we have the privilege of food and water, we must not complain.”

How do you experience suspended time - not knowing when filmmaking, life in general will go back to ‘normal’?
SJ: It makes me think a lot about death, the meaning of life and all that time that has already been. It’s hard in a way, but maybe it’s good as well, as one has to reflect upon the values that one finds important.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on our shared humanity?
SJ: Maybe and hopefully it will make people feel that we all have some values that are important to protect and that all humans on earth have some common needs.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on the film & TV industry?
SJ: I am not sure, but I am afraid the film industry will suffer severely and need time to get back on track.

How do you feel about watching films only on television?
I try to focus on the positive side - that the film starts when I want it to and I don't have to watch 20 min of advertising first.

Could you cite two films that you’ve seen recently?
SJ: I wanted to show my daughter Silver Linings Playbook and it was great to see again. Next to watch will be Shoplifters by Hirokazu Kore-eda who is my favourite director.

Juho Kuosmanen, writer/director, Finland
Kuosmanen had his international breakthrough four years ago with his feature debut The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki that won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the European Discovery of the Year at the European Film Awards and eight Jussi Finnish film awards in 2017 including Best Film and Best Director.

The director’s anticipated second feature Compartment Number 6 is scheduled to premiere in Finland in 2021.  The adaptation of Rosa Liksom’s eponymous novel is set in the late 1980s. A young Finnish woman escapes a strange love triangle to take a train to Mongolia. Confronted with the reality of late Soviet Siberia, she is forced to share her journey with a man who hates the world.


Sara Johnsen and Juho Kuosmanen on the impact of Covid-19

Juho Kuosmanen / PHOTO: Kuokkasen Kuvaamo

As a filmmaker, how do you experience social distancing and living in a confined space?
Juho Kuosmanen: The effect of the virus is obviously terrible, but I have nothing against this social distancing. Luckily I just finished shooting [Compartment Number 6] so this unsocial phase brings nice contrast to this spring. Social distancing was in my plans even before Covid-19!

How do you experience suspended time - not knowing when filmmaking, life in general will go back to ‘normal’?
JK: It’s challenging but I try to accept that uncertainty is the nature of life. Now even more. If we could think the normal as constant change it might be easier to face tomorrow’s news. Many of my dear colleagues are having much more difficult times, the freelance workers on set and directors who’s shootings were postponed or interrupted. We the lucky bastards are now in post-production.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on our shared humanity?
JK: Part of me thinks that this will unite us, that we can finally understand that we are all made in the same mold. And this understanding will help us to survive, not just this virus, but also climate crisis and all that comes along. On the other hand, a part of me thinks that people are too stupid, short-sighted and greedy pieces of shit to understand even the basics of humanism and after the economical crisis, the ones who have money will buy the rest of the world to make some more money out of it.

What do you think will be the impact of Covid-19 on the film & TV industry?
JK: To be frank, this is not my biggest concern and I haven’t thought about it a lot. Art in many ways will stay because we need it. Film and TV are very much tied to money and that makes it more complicated, but I’m sure our industry will survive. People also need entertaining. The sectors of the industry I’m mostly worried about are the small cinemas and distributors. I hope we can still watch films together in cinemas.

How do you feel about watching films only on television?
It’s okay, but it’s not a cinema.

Can you mention two films that you’ve seen recently?
JK: Here are two quotes from classic films that I’ve watched recently: ”Touch my lips with yours, like humans do on earth” – Aelita, Queen of Mars by Jakov Protazanov.

”You knew there is a shark out there, you knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyway” - Jaws by Steven Spielberg.