A conversation with Finnish filmmaker Joonas Makkonen

Joonas Makkonen (photo - credits by Carlotta Arrivabene) is a young Finnish filmmaker. He directs bizarre short movies that openly play with genres. He does not hide that the main vocation of his work is mainly to entertain “his” audience. He was also part of the jury in the 10th edition of Lago Film Fest. During the festival, we asked him to say something about himself... 

Joonas, let's start from the role you're playing here. You are part of the jury in this edition of Lago Film Fest. How is it going? What is most important for you to consider a film good? 

It's my first experience as a jury member and the atmosphere here in Lago is super! According to me, a good film should have at least a good screenplay. The “cool” look of a film could not mean anything. I've found very nice films here, quite funny and at the same time with a good plot. Even if the technique is not good, you can still enjoy the plot. 

Yes, and probably it's even more true for, you know, young filmmakers who work with very low budgets… 

Sure, this applies to my films as well, because I don't work with a big budget and what always motivates me at the very beginning is that I want to make good stories and that's what the motivation should be to do films! 

Now, «Some things are not what they look like» - as a character says in one of your shorts- seems to be the explicit statement of your body of work as a whole, beyond the singularity of each film. Is this also your personal vision of life and real things happening around or is it simply a game you like to play with the stories in your films? 

Well... I think I am a unique person in good and bad things, in the sense that I don't think I am a “regular” guy. I have my own demons, and when things come out I try to fix them, conscious that I could alter their “direction”. I try to be honest with myself in this sense, linked to my peculiarities. One of my goals is not allow the viewers to guess the lines too much, but of course I know that there's the risk of disappointing them, so I try to balance these two a bit. Also, I don't want to focus my film strictly on a specific theme, I like when there's a ludic aspect to entertainment, that's a main point for me: some filmmakers are afraid about that. 

Your stories are full of black humour, with surreal elements and weird situations. And your characters are often «borderline», so probably there's a high risk that the viewers don't feel in tune with them...

They are the most interesting for me, because I feel like an outsider, so I wouldn't feel confident with a family man or a business woman. But, do you mean that there's a risk that the viewers will not love the characters because they are so far from them?

Yes, it's a point but, as you can imagine, a point of criticism is that, for a general audience, the risk of laughing at things than can hurt personal sensitivity (laughing about a serious illness or the violent death of a puppy, for example) is high. What do you think about that?   

I'm not afraid of that... in Finland we say that when you do a curtsy to a person in front of you, you might show your ass to the one behind you! So you can't please everyone, and you also have to trust people not to take this excess seriously. However, I know that my films are viewed by a particular audience and that's is something to consider for my way of thinking films, they have a “target” audience. 

In our cultural mentality about Northern people, we have the idea of them as serious and 'cold'! Are you going to debunk this myth? 

Ahah! I can say that in this sense I'm not Finnish at all! [joking]

I'd like to ask you if, as a young Finnish director, you feel the reference of the Finnish master Kaurismaki as a burden... I mean, Joonas, you are Finnish and you play with dark humour: I am guessing that you have already been asked about the influence of Kaurismaki, but -let's say it- probably because it's the only Finnish director known around Europe! How do you feel about this reference? 

Well, I think that, when approaching to filmmaking, the main problem for my generation is the mentality of giving funding in Finland, not about the presence of a big author. The funding bodies are reluctant to support different kind of films, it seems they only accept ideas about realistic Finnish dramas or comedies, it seems that some different directions are hardly considered, for example... a horror vein linked to comedy, that's what I wish for!

Do you have influences outside Finland, any directors, films or..?

Actually, I don't have any favourite. I liked Craig Gillespie's Lars and the Real Girl, recently. In general, I like those films that are able to add surprising elements, even without a realistic vein, and perhaps are a bit weird. This general model influences my projects, I don't know, perhaps I'm a little bit wary of realism or situations that are too realistic...

But, you'll have to deal with it, sooner or later! 

Yes! [laughs] However, I don't discriminate any type of film, of course. Perhaps, comedy is more relevant to my way of thinking because you can “bury” problems, where the drama takes them seriously. 

Tell us something more about your way of working, concerning the management of time and deadlines. In several end credits of your works we noticed your participation in 48 and 100 hours contest film production. This is a really short time to work, I guess. So, how do you handle this challenge? 

Many of my works took part to these contests. It's a good chance and also an alternative way of funding, on which I'm not relying on too much for now. Well, as you can guess, when the time is short, you have to point out the idea, and not be too worried about starting to shoot something at the very beginning, in order to have material to work on immediately. Obviously, you cannot afford too many shots per scene, but probably have many scenes in one shot. Then, you need to think about the style, a formal look based on the plot you want to develop. And then, from that moment onwards, you should have enough time to reconsider things...

Would you give us an anticipation about your first feature- length film?

The name is Bunny the Killer Thing. It is set at wintertime, spoken in English and inspired by Eighties exploitation films, or with that spirit at least. The plot is about a Finnish youngster going to a cabin, there's something to hide, grumpy relations and then… a strange half-Bunny half-human creature appears, the menace, as in a survivor movie. I'd like to consider it as a horror comedy that aims to be a class A B-movie! 
In Finland, there have only ever been two horror-comedy features, so I am interested in hearing what people will think about it. Sure, there's the risk that they'll consider me a fool, but for now, I do not feel pressure related to the fact that it's my first feature- length film. I am encouraged by the fact that directors like Jackson and Spielberg began with “weird things” too! 

Ok, Joonas, now we're curious to see your Bunny's adventures around Europe!

Actually, we aim to distribute it widely!

01 August 2014, by Nisimazine