An upcoming independent film entitled Tämä hetki kaislikossa (Finnish for "This moment in the reeds") is currently in production and will be one of the first movies in Finnish history to tackle the topic of homosexual love – and the very first feature-length one.
Director and screenwriter Mikko Mäkelä says he wonders why LGBTQIA themes have not been approached in Finnish filmmaking, despite Finland being a "relatively liberal country".
"Non-commercial documentaries are alive and well in Finland, but full-length fiction cinema is always made with the returns in mind," says Mäkelä. "Production companies don't take risks in countries this small."
In Mäkelä's upcoming film Leevi, a Finnish literature student studying in Paris (and played by Janne Puustinen) returns home for the holidays to help his father (played by Mika Melender) renovate their summer cottage. Leevi becomes romantically involved with Tareq, a Syrian man hired to help with the work (and played by Boodi Kabbani).
Homosexual themes rare in Finnish film
Documentary filmmaker Markku Heikkinen says he agrees with Mäkelä that Finnish movies tend almost never to have homosexual lead characters.
"There aren't many, and not a single feature film with a gay lead yet exists," Heikkinen says. "Then again, there aren't many movies with, say, elderly female protagonists, either."
The 2010 TV film Päivät kuin unta ("Beauty Sleep") by Elias Koskimies is the only lengthier Finnish production that deals with the lives of gay men. But the situation may be about to change, as two Tom of Finland-themed movies are in the works in addition to Mäkelä's indie frontrunner.
Personal experiences reflected in plot
Mäkelä is originally from Lappeenranta, South Karelia and has made a career editing music videos and ads in London for some ten years. Tämä hetki kaislikossa is his first feature-length film.
Mäkelä himself identifies as part of a sexual minority, and says he felt that the time was ripe for a feature film that deals with his own experiences as a remigrant.
"When I left sleepy Lappeenranta the atmosphere was very tense," he recalls. "Though things have moved forward in a decade."
Mäkelä says he also wants his movie to discuss leaving one's homeland behind. The character of Leevi feels that Finland is the wrong place for him and leaves for France, while Tareq flees persecution in Syria.
Sights set high
Mäkelä's Tämä hetki kaislikossa is a volunteer venture, but the team says it will be applying for crowd funding online. The movie is being filmed in August in a summer cottage milieu in Savitaipale, South Karelia, and is set to hit the big screen in spring 2017.
Mäkelä and his team say they want their movie to be featured at Finland's biggest film festivals and international showcase events, and on Finnish television.