TIFF 2016 Women Directors: Meet Selma Vilhunen — “Little Wing”

“Little Wing”

Selma Vilhunen is an Academy Award nominated director and screenwriter based in Helsinki, Finland. She has written and directed both documentaries and fiction films since 1998. Vilhunen’s short comedy “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” was nominated for an Oscar in 2014.

“Little Wing” will premiere at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival on September 9.

W&H: Describe the film for us in your own words.

SV: “Little Wing” is a story of 12-year-old Varpu who lives in a complex situation together with her mom. She realizes that she wants to know to learn more about her dad — someone who was never really talked about in her small family of two. One night Varpu sets off on a journey looking for him. When she finally finds him he turns out to be quite different from anything she ever imagined.

“Little Wing” is a portrait of real people with massive faults and yet lots of hope and warmth inside of them. It is about the need to be seen as who you really are, and about being given time and space to grow and evolve as a human being, safe and loved.

I like to think of the film as an identity-thriller. Minute by minute the audience is more anxious to find out how Varpu experiences herself in the end of the story.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

SV: The story has a lot of elements from my own life story. I always lived with my mom, my dad having died when I was only six months old. Originally I was inspired by exploring the kind of closeness that people share in a family of just one parent and one child, where the gap between two generations may become nonexistent at times — the roles of who is the adult and who is the child may become blurred.

The film is also a kind of poem about my own search for my roots and of a sense of having a father. I spent much of my twenties going through the sorrow of not having one, carefully studying any possible fact or rumor about him. “Little Wing” is, through fiction, my way of meeting my dad.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

SV: I hope that they are feeling a bit more merciful towards themselves and towards the person next to them. I hope that the film touches the audience with a sense of gratefulness of just being alive.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

SV: The answer is simple: our shooting schedule was tight. I had to learn how to create a space of calmness and being focused despite the fact that we had to be quick in everything we did.

W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.

SV: The funding is a typical one in the Nordic countries: The Finnish Film Foundation is an important financier along with the national broadcaster YLE. The Nordic Film and TV Fond came along as soon as we had the Danish TV on board.

An important factor was also the artist’s grants which I received during the rather long writing process.

W&H: What does it mean for you to have your film play at TIFF?

SV: I am very, very excited to have my film at TIFF. The festival has always had an incredible lineup and I’m so honored to be a part of it this year.

Film is a medium which can talk to wide audiences and this is my opportunity to reach people in North America.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve received?

SV: The best things I’ve learned by doing what I’ve seen other people do. But I did get a useful advice when I started film school. Someone said, “Just start making them films like a real filmmaker right away, for real audiences, like you’re serious.” The best thing about that advice was the trust in me and what I did came across.

The worst advice has been to let go of directing because I didn’t seem to be “the type” — because I am sensitive, and because I was shy when I was younger.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?

SV: Don’t wait for anyone’s permission to make a film. There is always a way to make a film. Find out for yourself what “cinema” means to you with each film.

Don’t let others tell you what is important and what is not. Demand and cultivate a culture of respect and diversity on set.

W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.

SV: “Fish Tank” by Andrea Arnold is perhaps it. It is so very perfect in every aspect of filmmaking, so surprising and layered. What I look for in a film is something that can only be expressed through cinema and “Fish Tank,” in its most detailed and unique perception and a sense of flow of time, is definitely all about that.

W&H: Have you seen opportunities for women filmmakers increase over the last year due to the increased attention paid to the issue? If someone asked you what you thought needed to be done to get women more opportunities to direct, what would be your answer?

SV: I think in Finland the change is slower than what I’ve hoped for. But all the discussion is for the good. It’s good that female filmmakers are beginning to see a pattern of being overlooked and demand more. Working together for a common goal is a wonderful thing.

Right now a large study of financing processes in Finnish film is being made from the point of view of gender equality. I hope this study will lead to an official equality program within the film and TV industry.

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