Little Wing

Director Selma Vilhunen

<em>Little Wing</em>

In this touching Finnish drama, a daughter must play the role of parent to her scattered mother, while also enduring bullying from the richer girls in her equestrian class and the attention of boys in her housing complex. When she hits the road to find her father in a stolen car, matters grow more confusing and poignant. See mamo.fi.

Why did you decide to make this story your feature debut?

The reason why this film is my debut feature fiction film is actually a result of many different choices made by not only myself but also decision-makers and producers. However, I started to write this screenplay as soon as I was finished with my previous longer fiction work, which was in 2006. This story had been sort of cooking inside of me for years.

Do you relate at all to the young protagonist?

I can relate to the protagonist a great deal. I too was raised by my mom alone and I was her only child. I believe that there is something very special about a family with only one adult and one child. Sometimes the roles between child and parent can get a bit blurry in a family like this, especially if the parent is going through a tough time. Varpu’s story is also close to my own in the way that I was never able to get to know my father because he died when I was a baby. Little Wing is somehow my way of meeting him through fiction.

How did you use the skills you developed as a documentarian to tell a feature story?

I have always made both fiction and documentary films and, in fact, I don’t see the two approaches to filmmaking very different from one another. To me, it is all about cinema and in the core there is always the perception of the filmmaker. Perhaps documentary filming has taught me to not be afraid of producing a lot of material and of sometimes being slow on the set.

My documentary filmmaking method is that of the fisherman: I throw my camera into the situation and I sit or stand in silence, sometimes for hours, and wait. Sometimes it is only in the editing suite where I know what was actually caught on tape and if it fits the composition of the whole film.

So now with Little Wing, I knew to trust my actors and the dramatic situations and keep on filming something that on the surface may seem like there is not so much going on. But on the big screen even the smallest details can make a huge impact in the viewer.

What is there to learn about when a child acts as the parent and vice versa?

Unfortunately, there are a lot of children in this world who have to carry more weight on their shoulders than they should. For various reasons adults are incapable of taking the responsibility they should, and children often are eager to do their best trying to help their parents. With Little Wing, my main focus, however, is in the idea of mercifulness and of seeing the other person as someone who is capable of change and who has many sides to her.

In this story the mother is going through a tough period and her strength is somewhat gone, but she is not a bad human being, or stupid. But the fact is that life is always demanding for each and everyone of us, and no one should have to survive here without help and support. We should be quick to help, not to judge.

Is there anything uniquely Finnish about this film? Or is it universal?

It has been a great joy to discover that the film has been much loved in different parts of the world. I have had a Chinese woman telling me that this was the story of her and her mother. What is uniquely Finnish or Nordic culture is perhaps the horseback riding school environment where Varpu spends much of her time. This is a very common hobby among teenage girls and it is somewhat accessible to people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. I find the riding schools interesting because there you can see different people coming together and how the differences can sometimes create tensions, and, on the other hand, they can be overcome.

What is your next project?

I’m actually about to finish a feature documentary which I have been working on more or less at the same time as I’ve been making Little Wing. It’s title is Hobbyhorse Revolution and it is a portrait of a very special hobby and subculture which is created by Finnish teenage girls and is now grown to be a phenomenon of about 10,000 people involved. The trailer of the project can be found on YouTube.

I am also preparing to film my next feature film which is written by Kirsikka Saari and produced by Tuffi Films. The title of the film is Stupid Young Heart; it is a story of a 15-year-old boy who is about to become a father. He feels that he has to find a way to become the man that he never had in his own life. He takes a shortcut into manhood in the world of violence and prejudice. So this theme of not having a father is still something that keeps me busy.

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