Pirjo Honkasalo

Honkasalo is in the literal sense of the word, the ‘first lady ‘ of documentarists in her own country, as Finland’s first woman cinematographer with an impressive filmography of remarkable, award-winning documentaries and fiction films.

She has been exploring the concreteness of documentary filmmaking for almost three decades – always on celluloid.


Anette Olsen met her in Århus.

AO: You always shoot your films on 35mm.

PH: I would be happy to go to the grave without having done one second of video!

As a method of working, thinking and distributing the film through a small box at home, video hasn’t been able to offer what film language can express.

I need to see a film on screen, and I always think in terms of cinema. If I was rich, I wouldn’t sell films to TV. Not that I despise TV as a medium, but I feel I’m using a wrong language for it and thereby it cannot express the whole content of the film. I don’t think you can make films for both cinema and TV.

Film is a visual art; it’s painting in time with image and sound. I’m looking for the absolute film, and needless to say I have not yet reached this. There are too many pictures in the world. Film should reach us at another level. Often we loose purity in the technique.

Fire-Eater is Pirjo Honkasalo’s 1998 debut fiction film

AO: You have made both documentaries and fiction.

PH: Yes. Usually you either have a head for fiction or for documentary, but for me it’s a must to do both.

AO: There must be a difference between making documentary and fiction.

PH: They don’t differ so much really, it is always about portraying the inner life of people. Fiction always involves a documentation of the actor, too; you cannot cut a life story out of a face. The attitude of the director is different though. In documentary you have to be humble, you are dealing with real people. In fiction you can’t be humble, otherwise the machine will kill you.

AO: This afternoon you talked about a certain concreteness of documentary filmmaking.

PH: Yes. I believe that a documentary is a documentation of your relationship to the subjects, whatever people claim. The big difference is that you’re actually shooting real life and real people, it is something concrete. It is a strange and daring art to express yourself through other people. In a way, in a documentary you receive all the time, but in fiction the director has to give all the time.

I have to admit that documentaries are my secret love after all, even though I have to make both.

A feast by the Ganges: from Atman by Pirjo Honkasalo

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