An Interview with Director Anu Kuivalainen and the Beauty of Finland’s Forest

Posted by Daniel Salazar, February 2, 2018

By Daniel Salazar

We had an interview with independent filmmaker Anu Kuivalainen about her new film, Into the Forest I Go. A Cinema Verde official selection, Into the Forest I Go is a documentary about ten separate characters’ relationship with Finland’s forests. During the interview, we talked about the making of the film, Kuivalainen’s directorial approach, and the way the film acted as a channel for her sorrow.

“In Finland, something like 80% of the area is forest,” explained independent filmmaker Anu Kuivalainen. “That’s why, from generation to generation, people have always had a deep connection to the trees here.”

Into the Forest I Go is Kuivalainen’s attempt to capture the special relationship between the Finnish and the forest on film. The documentary will begin Cinema Verde’s 9th annual film festival on Thursday, February 8th, and Kuivalainen is excited to attend the festival to give an audience Q&A following the screening of her film.

“I’m really curious about what [in Gainesville] will think about the film,” Kuivalainen said.  Gainesville is known for its number of green spaces, with forested areas and wetlands both within and outside city limits. However, Gainesville is a fast-developing city, which means some of these green spaces are now disappearing. But these threats to the environment are being met by conservation efforts by local organizations. Cinema Verde works to protect the living landscape in our urban environment by conducting semi-annual creek clean-ups with the community.

Kuivalainen hopes, then, that audiences here can relate to the importance of nature to the Finnish, and to the emotions they feel as they see their forests being threatened by logging.

In anticipation of Cinema Verde, we sat down for an interview with Kuivalainen. In it, she discussed the making of Into the Forest I Go, her approach to documentary filmmaking, and how the film was a way for Kuivalainen to process her grief. You can read a lightly edited transcript of the interview here.  

“My motivation was my sorrow.”

So, to start with, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what your background is?

I have been doing films for 20 years already. I live in Helsinki in Finland with my family. I direct and I scriptwrite and sometimes I also edit myself, but Into the Forest I Go was edited with another editor. Sometimes I do part of the camerawork, but mainly I use another cameraman or camerawoman.

Why did you decide to make Into the Forest I Go? What motivated you to make the film?

The film is about–I have to tell you a little bit of background on Finland, because in Finland, everywhere we have this pine tree forest. We can pick berries and mushrooms and camp and stay in the forest–in any forest, private or government-owned. Forests are kind of common property.

I had this forest which was near our summer cottage by the lake in the middle of Finland, and I was really in love with the forest. I had stayed there since I was three years old every summer, and I knew every path and every stone and–no, not every tree, but there was my special tree with which I talked to. Then I heard that they were going to cut down the whole forest. And that’s what they did. And it was really shocking. I was really depressed when I lost this space because it was kind of a safe place for me that I really needed for my mind. It was so important to me that I went into a depression.

“I wanted to make people feel what it is like in the forest.”

And then I thought that, well, I am a filmmaker, what should I do? So then I made a film about the forest. I kind of worked through my sorrow, and then I started to talk to other people about the forest. I decided that I wanted to make a film that shows all these points of views on the forest, so it wasn’t just my story. There are ten characters, and they all have a different relationship with the forest. My motivation was my sorrow, and then I needed to kind of open up to talk about the forest. The filmmaking was part of this process.

So jumping off from that topic, what’s the documentary filmmaking process usually like for you?

For me, it’s always a many-years-long process. Every film is something like four years of my life. I would say that making documentaries is kind of a way of life. It’s a way for you to go deep into some world that you want to go deep into. So you have to choose very carefully the subject of the film. You need to think about what you want to do for the next four years.

For example, at the moment, I am doing something totally different. I am making a film about older generations’ love and sex life–their sexuality. The age of my characters range from 75 to 90 years old. It’s something very different from this forest film. I usually make films about nature, but I also like to do other films that are more about people.

“It’s a feel-good film”

What was your directorial approach when making Into the Forest I Go? How did you go about creating the film, as an artist?

Hm… I’m thinking… I wanted to make people feel what it is like in the forest. I didn’t make an activist film, for example. I wanted to create a movie about what this forest means mentally to people. Do we think of the forest as money–economically–as in Finland we often do? Our government is logging the forest because they have some projects for bio-energy, which is kind of contradictory. I kind of touch on those themes, but my main idea was to give people a moment in the forest. So when you’re watching the film, you really feel like you are in the forest.

It’s a feel-good film. That’s what I have heard. Even though the starting point was sorrow, people have told me that they feel good after the film. That was important for me, because the forest, for mean, it means a safe place, an easy place to be, and it gives me strength. And that’s the feeling the movie usually gives to people. I think that’s what I was thinking about as my approach when I was making the film.

What do you hope will be the impact of your film?

I want people to think about what the importance of nature and the forest is for mankind, and also personally. I want to make them think about those things.

Into the Forest I Go will begin Cinema Verde’s 9th annual film festival on February 8th at 9 pm in the Hippodrome. Kuivalainen will be present for an audience Q&A following the film’s screenings. Cinema Verde tickets are available for sale here.

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