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This book presents an expert analysis of the transnational aspects of Finnish cinema throughout its history. As a small nation cinema, Finnish film culture has, even at its most nationalistic, always been attached to developments in other film producing nations in terms of production and distribution as well as genres and aesthetics. Recent developments in film theory offer exciting new approaches and methodologies for the study of transnational phenomena in the field of film culture, both past and present. The authors employ a wide range of cutting edge methodologies in order to address the major issues involved in transnational approaches to film culture. Until recently, much of this research has focused on globalization and questions related to diasporic cinema, while transnational issues related to small nation film cultures have been marginalized. This study focuses on how small nation cinemas have faced the dilemma of contributing to the construction and maintenance of national culture and identity, while responding to audience tastes largely shaped by foreign cinemas.
With Finland’s intriguing political placement between East and West, along with the high portion of film history preserved in Finnish archives, this thoroughly contextualized multidisciplinary analysis of Finnish film history serves as an illuminating case study of the transnational aspects of small nation cinemas.



Chapter 1. Introduction to the Study of Transnational Small Nation Cinema

In recent years transnational issues have emerged as one of the key issues in film studies. Much of this discussion has focused on diasporic cinemas, concerning films made for expatriate audiences dispersed around the globe, as well as on other forms of producing films outside Hollywood specifically targeted for the global market. A relatively new branch of this line of exploration is the study of the transnational nature of small nation cinemas. These produce films in languages that are not widely spoken or understood round the globe and thus their main audiences tend to be restricted to their own countries or countries with which they share the same language. The size of that audience is a crucial factor in determining how self-sufficient and continuous the production possibly can be at any given phase of film history. It also means that maintaining a thriving film culture is correspondingly dependent on transnational factors.
Henry Bacon

Beginnings: −1930


Chapter 2. A Young Nation Seeking to Define Itself: Finland in 1900–1930

Finland gained independence in December 1917 in the aftermath of the Russian October Revolution as an administrative process without a single gunshot. However, independence had been preceded by political turmoil and was soon followed by a civil war.
Outi Hupaniittu

Chapter 3. The Emergence of Finnish Film Production and Its Linkages to Cinema Businesses During the Silent Era

Hupaniittu analyses the economics of silent-era filmmaking and the low profitability of early film production in Finland. The film business was financially based on the exhibition and distribution of imported films. A production would be considered economically successful if it was able to break even; even for the most thriving producer, actual profitability was unattainable. Film producers boosted their economics with other fields of activity, such as laboratory services or theatre set painting, and the largest producer was able to make profits only after it bought a distribution and exhibition company.
Outi Hupaniittu

Chapter 4. Finnish Film Style in the Silent Era

This chapter traces the changes that took place in the style of Finnish silent fiction films and their connections to national and international cultural flows. Finnish films are analysed in their transnational context by means of classifying, measuring and verbally describing their stylistic characteristics. These findings are compared to corresponding stylistic developments in foreign cinemas. This reveals similarities and differences, on the basis of which it is possible to assess how unique Finnish silent cinema was and to what extent foreign cinemas affected its stylistic development. The chapter outlines the development of Finnish silent cinema from the tableau style towards the classical style.
Jaakko Seppälä

The Studio Era: 1930–1960


Chapter 5. War and Peace: Finland Among Contending Nations

Towards the end of the 1930s, the Depression was over and the film business boomed, as people again had the money to go to the cinema. The number of cinemas increased as well as the number of film premieres. Hollywood films dominated the screens, but cinemas offered a wide variety of films from different countries such as Germany, the UK, France, Sweden—and Finland. Two major companies in Finland, Suomi-Filmi and Suomen Filmiteollisuus, established a studio-like production system with a growing number of film professionals. From 1936 onwards both studios started to produce several films in parallel, which quickly increased the number of domestic premieres per year. In addition, minor film companies such as Jäger-Filmi Oy (1938–1969) and Eloseppo Oy (1938–1942) and the filmmaker Teuvo Tulio (1911–2001) actively made films, although less regularly. All in all, these emerging Finnish film companies laid a foundation for the studio era of Finnish cinema, which lasted until the early 1960s, when the studio-based production system gave way to a new production system steered by state film policy.
Anneli Lehtisalo

Chapter 6. Conceptions of National Film Style During the Studio Era

This chapter focuses on what was considered a national film style during the studio era after the coming of recorded sound. Remarkable changes took place in the early 1930s in film production and aesthetics, in import and distribution, as well as in exhibition practices. These were partly caused by the conversion to sound film, but equally important was the mission of creating a domestic cinema for a small nation in the context of an effectively transnational film culture. The notion of national style is discussed from several different, partly overlapping angles: in terms of the house styles of the major production companies, the rhetoric concerning national cinema and national film style, and different modes of film practice adopted from foreign sources—classicism, theatricalism, pictorialism and avant-garde.
Kimmo Laine

Chapter 7. Exporting Finnish Films

This chapter explores the dynamics of the foreign distribution of Finnish films during the studio era (1936–1965). The number of exported films was not significant, but there was a constant flow of films from Finland to the international film markets, in particular to Sweden and the niche markets in Northern America. Generally, the foreign distribution of Finnish films depended to a significant extent on international political circumstances. Despite the marginality and scarce resources of the Finnish film industry, distributing films abroad was considered desirable and important, and over the decades Finnish film companies enhanced their international marketing, for example by participating at international film festivals.
Anneli Lehtisalo

New Waves: 1960–1980


Chapter 8. Trade and Diplomacy Between East and West

The election of Urho Kekkonen as the President of Finland in 1956 consolidated the country’s political position between East and West. He emerged from the Agrarian Leagues (the Centre Party after 1965), but he succeeded in getting across an image of himself as the only political leader able to maintain favourable relationships with the socialist Soviet Union (USSR). His presidency lasted for 26 years, for the most part through democratic procedures: four times by elections and once by the enacting of an emergency law. Although Finland had to respect the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance with the USSR, it was also able to maintain political, commercial and cultural relationships with Western countries and to proclaim its neutrality in global political affairs. In many ways things worked out remarkably well. Finland was the only country with a major land border with the USSR (1340 km) that was able to maintain fully working democratic institutions, despite a degree of stagnation and political manoeuvring in certain aspects of the country’s foreign relationships. Finland gained prestige as a mediator between East and West, a balancing act that culminated in its hosting of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975.
Henry Bacon

Chapter 9. The Finnish New Wave as a Transnational Phenomenon

The Finnish New Wave of the 1960s operated more as a network of independent filmmakers rather than as a conscious and relatively cohesive movement like the French Nouvelle Vague. Young directors challenged conventions of the studio system and the mainstream with both experimental social critiques and ‘liberated’ explorations of youth. The Finnish New Wave shares much with its international counterparts, including the relevant themes and experimental stylistic approaches of the films. Yet this relationship does not imply a simplistic model of cultural imposition, but rather a more reflexive form of dialogue with international counterparts. Directors were certainly inspired by international cinematic movements, but would innovate and adapt elements based on both idiosyncratic preferences and the conventions still structuring Finnish cinema. To unpack the ways in which these film directors engaged with international forms of cultural expression, the chapter focuses on key works by Maunu Kurkvaara, Mikko Niskanen, Risto Jarva and Jörn Donner.
Pietari Kääpä

Chapter 10. Popular Modernism

The aim of this chapter is to reconsider the relation between popular, studio-based film and modernist cinema in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The emergence of Finnish New Wave cinema has often been written about in terms of either rupture or continuity. In this chapter, the relation between popular cinema and modernist cinema is seen from the vantage point of simultaneity and overlap. The focus is especially on the ways in which New Wave influences filtered into popular cinema. This theme is explored from the perspectives of the mode of production, authorship and intermediality.
Kimmo Laine

The Age of Internationalization: Finnish Cinema Since 1980


Chapter 11. An Increasingly European Nation

The Cold War is generally considered to have ended with the dramatic fall of European socialism in the autumn of 1989, leading within a year to the reunification of Germany and within two years to the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR). Finland found itself completely free to deepen its economic relations with the West and immediately applied for membership of the European Union (EU). It joined the Union in 1995, and together with most other EU countries adopted the euro as its official currency.
Henry Bacon

Chapter 12. International Networks of Production and Distribution

The Finnish Film Foundation renewed its policies in the 1980s so as to take into account audience tastes and to keep Finnish film production up to contemporary technical standards. Considering the dominant market position of Hollywood cinema, these were necessary measures in order for a small nation cinema to survive. Though this development was jeopardized by the severe recession of the early 1990s, the state subsidies did increase quite considerably. This has taken place in conjunction with creating international networks, particularly in the Nordic sphere, but also in the context of European funding schemes. Practices of subsidizing have had to be defended against charges of blocking free trade. Finnish as well as European cinema in general has had to find a balance between beating Hollywood at its own game by producing genre films and developing an art house cinema, often focusing more on the achievements of luminous directors rather than distinctly national qualities.
Henry Bacon

Chapter 13. Producer-led Mode of Film Production

This chapter analyses the ongoing debates over film policy in Finland. As film production in Finland continues to be heavily subsidized, debates on the role of institutional influence over cultural production are conducted in a very similar vein as in previous decades. Yet the emphasis on business language—enterprise, the customer—indicates a sense of readjustment in policy debates. State subsidies are needed to maintain a small nation film culture, but producer-led incentives and private sources of investment have played an increasing role in developing Finnish cinema. In order to explore these dynamics between art and commerce, national relevance and market-led competition, this chapter chronicles some of these key changes from the perspective of film producer Marko Röhr, a central force in realizing some of the transformations of the period. Röhr provides an intriguing case study, as his role in the negotiations between commercial and artistic interests reflects many of the key debates of the era.
Pietari Kääpä

Chapter 14. Two Modes of Transnational Filmmaking

Klaus Härö and Aki Kaurismäki exemplify in two different ways the possible ways in which transnational contexts, both as regards production and aesthetics, have created new prospects for a small nation cinema. Härö made his first film in Sweden and thus came to know a film production tradition that was much more stable than what Finland could offer. The transnational collaboration also allowed him to deepen the themes of the experience of Finns or Finnish speakers living in Sweden. Kaurismäki in turn has succeeded in creating a small-scale but stable independent production company, which has allowed him to cultivate his own highly idiosyncratic style in which he has integrated stylistic features taken from various masters of international cinema.
Henry Bacon, Jaakko Seppälä

Chapter 15. Finnish Films and International Festivals

This chapter illuminates the changes and continuities in Finnish film policy in relation to international film festivals. International film festivals have been one of the main channels for the foreign distribution of Finnish films, and Finnish films have been screened at major European festivals almost since their inception. The Finnish Film Foundation has subsidized festival participation from the outset, as international film festivals have been well suited to its ‘dual aims’, offering a forum for both film art and commercial promotion. Nowadays festival films are no longer confined to so-called art house films, and the repertoire includes different genres ranging from comedies to horror films.
Anneli Lehtisalo

Chapter 16. Conclusion: The Transnational Persistence of National Cinemas

The study of the transnational aspects of a small nation cinema throughout its history entails first of all systematically collecting data in a variety of ways, ranging from thorough exploration of relevant archives to developing methods for comparative stylistics. The data then has to be interpreted in the light of our increasing understanding of why certain decisions were made in the context in which people operated, taking into account the practical, economic and technical constraints, focusing especially on how their horizons of expectation were formed between the desire to create and maintain a genuinely national film culture on the one hand, and to relate to a variety of developments abroad on the other. All this makes sense only in relation to how such developments were conditioned by the vicissitudes of social, political and ideological changes that have connected the nation with the rest of the world. At times interpretation has to be somewhat speculative due to the unavailability of materials: certain statistics have been systematically collected only after a certain point in time, both films and archival materials have disappeared or are for compelling—and sometimes quite obscure—reasons not available (see the Appendix for statistics compiled by Outi Hupaniittu and her account of the availability, or lack, of relevant data). Nevertheless, reasonably reliable estimates can be made on the basis of surviving public statements, company records and reminiscences by business professionals, cultural critics and commentators as well as members of the audience. Through such records we can form a focused idea of what different people thought about their national cinema in respect of transnational developments that were taking place.
Henry Bacon


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