Elli Toivoniemi & Kirsikka Saari

Finland, 2016. Seven Finnish filmmakers – Kirsikka Saari, Elli Toivoniemi, Anna Paavilainen, Alli Haapasalo, Reetta Aalto, Miia Tervo and Jenni Toivoniemi – came together to share their experiences of being a woman today. They noticed how they were constantly talking about topics such as sexual harassment, inequality on many levels and exclusion and asked themselves: “How is it possible that we are living in a so-called equal world where the notions of gender equality and allegedly having the same opportunities as men have been so internalized, and yet we are still facing micro-aggressions on a daily basis?” And, obviously, they weren’t the only ones bothered by this status quo – the discussion was bubbling under all around and these topics became more and more present in conversations. So, one day, Kirsikka Saari decided it was time to do something about it. “Force of Habit” was thus born from an organic, collaborative and inspiring process. Then, a year and a half later, #metoo took the world by storm, the scope and importance of their project becoming more evident and the film itself more than timely and necessary. But, most important of all, it became clear it was universal. 

“Force of Habit” depicts moments in women’s lives that usually remain hidden and deconstructs the invisible exercise of power towards women, in private lives as well as in society. The film follows six different women who experience sexual harassment, judgement, underrating and exclusion. Those attitudes are found not only on the streets, in bars and work places, but also in a courtroom and on a stage of a theatre.

Tara Karajica talks to Kirsikka Saari and Elli Toivoniemi about the film.

 

 

 

When did you actually start making the film? What were the writing and shooting processes like? Did you have to hurry because of #metoo? Was financing easier because the topic was so timely?

E.T.: It was a process, for sure. Of course, #metoo had an impact on all levels, and still has. We needed to put it together faster, but of course, financing takes what financing takes. One concrete thing in terms of that we needed to hurry was that I didn’t have time to finance it internationally, which takes a lot more time. We needed to squeeze it timewise. It’s a massive project that includes twelve films, so it was quite complicated to produce. Every single part of the anthology was in a different development process and some of the writers were even starting over – at first, they were developing something, but then, they had another idea… The first shooting day was actually my episode, back in April 2018, and the last shooting day was in May 2019. So, it really took a long time and we were financing it as we went along the entire time. In a way, we still are because we are working with the format bible and the impact work.

K.S.: At first, we just discussed these topics. People shared their experiences and, in the beginning, we were all so frustrated. We were really shouting and sharing our stories and experiences and it was an empowering moment because it was maybe the first time that we were able to talk about those experiences and this was before #metoo, you have to remember. When people actually listened, they didn’t say: “Are you sure?” or, “Was it that serious?” or, “Is that important?” or, “Move on.” People just listened. And that was a very, very safe space where we could work. We started developing the idea quite soon. I was script consultant for all the episodes, so I could make sure the ideas were not too similar, that they came together nicely and that if two people had similar ideas, I could ask if they maybe had something else or maybe it wasn’t good because it was too close to that other idea that was already more developed. And I think that we also shared a sense of humor that you can see in the film. Because, I guess, the experiences could seem absurd we laughed a lot. It wasn’t just kind of therapy group; it was also fun. We drank beer and we laughed at lot, so it was empowering. And I think that you can also see our sense of humor    in the film.

E.T.: Absolutely. During the whole development process and also partly during the production process, we gathered together at least once or twice a month and we could read each other’s scripts if we wanted to, but there was no obligation. It was really an open process and it was one of the most fruitful development processes I have ever been involved in because we had this amazing group of people who were collectively giving input and reminding us that this is real. I remember, when we were in the beginning, we all had these doubts. Of course, #metoo showed us that we were at the core of something crucial, something we did together and I think no one could have done this by themselves because of all of these different perspectives. I think we could make hundreds of those films. Of course, there was a lot of work. But it was really great.

Can you talk about the title, “Force of Habit”?

K.S.: At first, it was the title of one of the episodes, but then we changed it. I think it’s the perfect title. At first, we just wanted to tell some stories that show that this actually happens, but quite soon, we realized that it’s not enough. We didn’t want to tell victim stories and victimize women. We wanted to work with our theme and quite soon, we understood, especially after #metoo, that the question in our topic was: Why are we all so used to it? How do we all allow it? Because as a girl, I had those experiences and I know that young girls and young women have those same experiences today and we all know it. So, why don’t we do anything about it? Because we are all used to it, so it’s a force of habit. We kind of accept things silently. If you ask my opinions, of course, I don’t accept it – and we all say that – and at the same time, our culture normalizes it. So, we wanted to make a film about the culture that makes it possible and that’s a force of habit. Even if it’s a horrible thing, it’s been normal for so long in our culture, our justice system, our arts, everywhere around us in our everyday life, so we are just used to it. Because it’s mainly a women’s problem, it’s put aside, and women haven’t had power for such a long time. Therefore, those women’s issues are not considered as important as men’s, but now things are changing and women have more power, so we have to rethink what is important and what we tolerate and what we don’t.

You catalogue habitual acts of discrimination on many levels. Do you think the film will actually wake people up and instigate a “change of habit” instead of this status quo of “force of habit”? Do you think the film has the power to do that?

E.T.: I really believe so. And somehow, we can say that it has already had impact, but of course, it’s not the only purpose of the film to be a kind of statement and I think that’s the power of the film, in this case. Of course, we wanted to make a change, but I think, as an artist, you always should need and want to communicate in the strongest way and the power of this film is emotion. That you are actually put in this position of the population and even after seeing these things on the big screen, you realize you are not alone. You never were. But we have been leaving girls and women alone with these issues for so long and, I think that we actually understand that we should open our eyes more and notice what is happening around us and that’s already a change in a way. Of course, it can have different ways of affecting people, but I really believe it can change something, it can at least do something to your soul.

K.S.: During #metoo, we heard so many times that when people heard the stories of the victims, they said so often: “Why didn’t you say no? Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you…?” And we’ve heard this hundreds of times where you ask the victim to change the world, to change the system, to change everything and this film is one answer to the question: “Why didn’t you say something?” So when you are feeling second by second what the victims and the women are feeling, you understand why they are not saying something, why they are not changing everything while they are harassed, while they are experiencing those things. But I think that this film can really grow empathy.

E.T.: Absolutely, and also, this change should happen in all of us – in women, too. That’s another discussion this film hopefully opens, that it’s an internalized behavior we all have in us. And it has the same mechanism as racism. It has the same mechanism as the imbalance in the power structure and when we talk about this structure, it’s really abstract and omnipresent in how we see the world.

I can’t help but wonder why is it that this film was made by Tuffi Films, a production company founded and operated by women, in Finland, a country where the Prime Minister is a young woman who has also been handling the coronavirus pandemic very efficiently. What are your thoughts on that? How is it that no one else has had the courage or the necessity to make such a film? Why is this film only possible in countries like Finland?

E.T.: That’s a really good question. I’m so proud that it comes from Finland, but we are not equal yet. The reason why it comes from Finland is that we are so close to equality. We can see it’s close, but we have been told so many times that everything is good in Finland, that we are equal and then we are like: “Honestly?” It’s not true! We are not equal! We still have pay gaps and many other issues. And Sanna Marin has been our Prime Minister for how long? A few months! And before her, there was nothing. Of course, we had a female President, but equality is still not here… This is a process… We have a good public funding system and a democracy, but also, I can’t help but ask myself: “Could we have done it without this particular group of people we made it with?” We didn’t go to financiers and said: “We have this idea, with these directors and these stories” because we knew there would be questions – it’s part of the job. We have listened to these questions so many times and they will always find a way to say it isn’t such a good project. But, in this case, we were like: “Whatever! There are fifteen people here and we are all professionals and really good at what we do and we have a really good project!” We had this attitude that no matter what, we will do this – one way or another. Now, I am really happy that we took all the funding that was available because it’s a low budget film. That’s one side to the question of why the film is from here and I think this is really Tuffi Films in many ways. One big thing in this is experience was that we figured out a whole new way of working. So, in a way, it’s more than a film project. It’s also become about how it’s a more collective, more equal and healthier working method and I think that other industries could benefit from this type of thinking.

K.S.: I was just wondering: “How come this film comes from Finland?” I guess that it’s just because we’ve been raised as equal people and then when you go through more experiences in your professional life, you start to notice. When I was in my twenties, I wasn’t so interested in feminism because I thought: “It has already happened, so I’ll fight for other things because this problem has been solved – at least in Finland,” so I didn’t worry. But then, when I started working, bit by bit, I started to understand that the world is not ready in that sense. We don’t have equality. We have progressed, of course, a lot during the last hundred years, but there is still a lot to do. Then at first, when I started working in the film industry, I thought: “Well, it’s not enough to fight for our films, let’s be the change.” When we founded Tuffi Films and we found each other – all the partners in our company and other people we work with – at first, I thought: “This is enough; we are going to make a change by making our films” and little by little, I understood that it’s not enough, that we have to do more, not to just fight for ourselves because then, the change will be very slow. We have to demand the change and come together and try to really solve those issues, not just to say that they will be solved by time.

E.T.: When we founded the company, it was the same question we have been facing during our ten-year run: “Oh! You are all women!” and: “Why? Is this a statement?” And we are like: “Are you asking the rest of the companies that are made up of all men the same questions?” At first, it was just an annoying question, but then we realized that it is a statement. It is really important that we are all women and we wouldn’t be here if it were any other way. It’s also about who we are and what type of values we share and that we are really an important not only in our film industry, but also anywhere else.

How was the film received by the audience in Finland?

E.T.: We premiered in September last year and the reception was really good. The reviews were really, really good and our press coverage was pretty impressive to be honest. We planned it really carefully and the press was our main way to get to the audience. We also distributed it ourselves because it was the best solution in order to keep it in our hands the way we wanted to. Of course, we have really small resources in terms of marketing and there was really high competition when the film was released. All things considered it went really well. We sold more than 10,000 admissions. As for the feedback we received, some people were in shock and most of the people were surprised that we weren’t pointing fingers. But, of course, we mainly got feedback from women, and also from some men, who said: “Thank you for putting me through this experience, showing me how it feels to be afraid your whole life, and how it affects you.”

What are your next projects?

K.S: Now, I’m working on the comedy series Carpe Fcking Diem! It’s produced by Tuffi Films and the Finnish TV channel MTV.

E.T: Tuffi Films has a lot going on at the moment. As a producer, I have several films in development and financing. There is, for example, going to be a horror film, a film about love and the second season of our comedy series, Carpe Fcking Diem! Also, Sihja, a live action fantasy feature for children, is coming out in 2021.

 

 

 

 

This interview was conducted in partnership with:

and:

Tara Karajica

Tara Karajica is a Belgrade-based film critic and journalist. Her writings have appeared in "Indiewire," "Screen International," "Variety," "Little White Lies" and "Film New Europe," among many other media outlets, including the European Film Academy’s online magazine, "Close-up" and Eurimages. She is a member of the European Film Academy, the Online Film Critics Society and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists as well as the recipient of the 2014 Best Critic Award at the Altcine Action! Film Festival. In September 2016, she founded "Yellow Bread," a magazine dedicated entirely to short films, ranked among the 25 Top Short Film Blogs and Websites on the Planet in 2017. In February 2018, she launched "Fade to Her," a magazine about successful women working in Film and TV and in 2019, she was a member of the Jury of the European Shooting Stars (European Film Promotion). She is currently a programmer for live action shorts at PÖFF Shorts, Head of the Short Film Program and Live Action Shorts programmer at SEEFest and Narrative Features Programmer at the Durban International Film Festival. Tara is a regular at film festivals as a film critic, moderator and/or jury member.

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