Virpi Suutari

Virpi Suutari is the writer and director of such acclaimed documentaries as “Sin” (1996), “White Sky” (1998), “The Idle Ones” (2001), “Along the Road Little Child” (2005) – co-directed with Susanna Helke -, “Auf Widersehen Finnland” (2010), and “Hilton!” (2013). All her works have been broadcast on Arte and have been awarded numerous times and screened at numerous festivals as well as in retrospectives and she has served as a member of a Jury at many festivals including the Visions du Reel Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland.

Ahead of the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film,” Tara Karajica talks to Virpi Suutari about women in Film and her latest film, “Entrepreneur,” an enchanting and frequently funny portrait of two very different food start-ups: one futuristic and taking on the world; the other, traditional and touring Finland’s back roads, that is screening at the festival.




How did Entrepreneur come about?

Virpi Suutari: There is a strong trend in our society to encourage people to become entrepreneurs. In Finland, the talk about entrepreneurship has been very lively during the past few years. Politicians are eager to improve the unemployment statistics by pushing people to invent work for themselves. Economists predict that there will be more and more freelancers and self-employed entrepreneurs in the future, when we are now arriving in a post-industrial era with more digitalization and robotization, and many jobs will disappear and new ones will emerge. In that kind of society, people who have education and flexibility to change their professions and re-educate themselves during their careers, will be the winners.

Entrepreneur raises basic questions about our existence and its fragility through pitting opposites against one another. Can you comment on that?

V.S.: That’s right. Despite of the socio-political frame of the film, the main focus is, as always in my films, on existence, humans and human behavior in certain social circumstances. This film turned to be, in a subtle way, a sort of carnevalistic nature documentary on ordinary people trying to make a living and finding meaning in their lives. Then, there are also some sub-stories about globalization and our ever so changing relation to food. At first, it seems as though the two protagonist entrepreneurs of my film are almost like from different planets and zones; the others come from a withering rural village where jobs have gone to bigger cities and to China and the only way to make a living is to invent something for yourself. The family of six sells meat from a small truck around the area and also has a tiny fun fair business. Their focus is mainly on their everyday survival. On the other side, the other entrepreneurs of my film represent start-up people, two highly educated and laborious women, who flexibly do business on a global level. They have invented a vegetable protein food product and they really want to make a difference in the world. I was at first a bit worried about this dualistic dramaturgical structure of the film, but when we did some pre-editing, this dualism turned out to create an interesting and sometimes humorous dialogue between these two realities – and without any moralism.

I rather see life from the comical side than from the tragical side. I like to also show the clumsiness of human beings, but in a gente and tender way.

Your film also juxtaposes two different ways of living and surviving in the broader context of the post-modern neo-liberal capitalist society. Can you elaborate on that?

V.S.: Our ways of working and earning money are definitively going through major changes in this post-industrial era. Our social security, for example, has been tied closely to the idea that you work for someone. Now, we have already seen that some self-employed entrepreneurs don’t really have any means to make a proper living, have retirement savings or social security. On the other hand, there are survivors, highly educated experts, as the film shows, who are able to operate flexibly in the modern global landscape. But what is interesting, according to some research, even if most entrepreneurs earn less than an average wage earner (at least in Finland), they feel more passionate about their work. It’s the feeling of freedom that counts for them; the feeling that no one is telling you what to do. I think you can see that ethos in both of my protagonist entrepreneurs.

As for the documentary genre, I think there are more female filmmaker and they are stronger than men. In fiction film, there is still a gender gap in favor of men.

How do you see the two women entrepreneurs, Maija Itkonen and Reeta Kivelä and their “Gold&Green” business?

V.S.: These women are incredible examples of highly educated experts who, with their scientific invention and with the start-up created around that, want to influence the meat consumption all around the world. In Finland, they have managed to create a whole new category of the meat substitute business and they are now also doing business globally. It was really interesting to be able to follow the first chaotic year of a start-up like this. Everything happened really quickly for them; what normally takes three years for a start up, took a year for them. And even though they are tough business women, I admired that they dared to also show their vulnerable, even girlish side, in the film.

Do you think that the quote “Money Can’t Buy Happiness” applies here? If so, how?

V.S.: I don’t think my film is trying to prove or teach that kind of point.

What do you think of the current situation of women in the film industry? What is it like in Finland?

V.S.: As for the documentary genre, I think there are more female filmmaker and they are stronger than men. In fiction film, there is still a gender gap in favor of men. But there are really strong new female names emerging in fiction films, so I think this is changing. Lately, film business as a whole has became more aware of hidden structures, and guidelines have been created for more equal ways of decision making and practical field work.

The Time’s Up! campaign has certainly had a great influence in Finland too. Some nasty cases of sexual and mental abuse have been revealed and the discussion around the topic has been lively and necessary. I guess, one thing we women can learn from this is that we have to learn to defend ourselves better. I know many actresses and female directors who, for example, have difficulties to talk about money. We have to stop being the nice “guys”.

How do you think the European Film Promotion and Sydney Film Festival’s initiative “Europe! Voices of Women in Film” will impact your career, your visibility and the promotion of European female film talent in Australia?

V.S.: I am excited about the possibility to show my work at the Sydney Film Festival and to meet other inspiring filmmakers and professionals. Hopefully, my work also raises interest in my next film that is going to be really international in its content and will probably travel a lot as of 2020 – hopefully to Sydney again as well!

Who is your favorite female filmmaker?

V.S.: I absolutely love and adore Andrea Arnold’s films. She is a true filmmaker and she manages to create very physical films. Even if they are fiction films, she has always very strong realities behind the stories and they often feel like documentaries. Fishtank, for example, was a mind-blowing experience for me.

What are your next projects?

V.S.: I am currently working on a feature length documentary film about Finnish architects, Alvar and Aino Aalto. They were an exceptional international modernist couple who wanted to create a more democratic modern world. It’s an epic love story between a man and a woman, but also a story of passion towards a more human architecture and design. The film will come out in 2020.



This interview was conducted in partnership with: 

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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