The following series of blog posts presents four case studies of Nordic produced films that aim for the international, English language market. Based on interviews with producers, the case studies aim to discuss how turning to the English language has affected the finance options available for the producers, while also addressing the performance of each title. The projects range from micro-budget films to studio titles, to diversify the analysis.
A Moment in the Reeds (Mäkelä, 2017)
A Moment in the Reeds is a micro-budget romantic drama by a Finnish writer-director Mikko Mäkelä, produced by Mäkelä’s UK based production company Wild Beast Productions in 2016. The film is Mäkelä’s first feature, and the budget of the film was 19 000 € (Mäkelä, 2018). The film, which is one of the first queer films to be made in Finland, premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in Autumn 2017.
The film follows Leevi, who after having moved abroad for university, returns to Finland for the summer to help his estranged father to renovate the family lake house. Tareq, a recent asylum seeker from Syria, has been hired to help out. As Leevi’s father returns to town for business, the two young men establish a connection and spend a few days discovering one another during the Finnish midsummer.
The film includes both English and Finnish language, as Leevi speaks Finnish with his father, but English with Tareq. In an interview in Helsinki, Mäkelä explains that regardless of the English language, he aimed to make the film for the Finnish audiences as a response to the lack of queer cinema in Finland. The decision to increase the English dialogue in the film came from casting. As the film was heavily improvised, the dialogue was adaptable to the language skills of the chosen actor.
Mäkelä doesn’t think that the English language has a had a significant impact on the international success as the audiences for LGBTQ+ films and festival titles are very receptive to world cinema. In fact, during production, he was worried that the Finnish accents would turn out to be problematic for foreign audiences.
Overall Mäkelä is surprised how well the film has been received abroad, especially at festivals but also regarding sales; so far, he has sold Germany, Poland, UK, Australia and Sweden and he is currently finalising a deal in France. However, the level of MGs are very low, at best 6000 USD for Australian rights.
Mäkelä contemplates that the success is based on the film being simultaneously a relatable global story, while also being told in a unique setting of the exotic Finnish countryside which has helped the film to stand out. By combining these two elements, the film manages to incorporate the more local, more global – philosophy. Also, the fact that the film was marketed as one of the first queer films from Finland helped to attract festival audiences.
Mäkelä mentions that it was only the international success, which brought the attention of the Finnish industry. Due to the English language and potentially the subject matter, Mäkelä has not found a buyer in Finland and is currently self-distributing: ‘I was in contact with distributors for months, and either they didn’t have room, or there wasn’t enough demand for this kind of film, so the distributors didn’t want to take the risk’. He mentions that many distributors saw the English language as an alienating factor for local audiences.