«We like to think that even if DocPoint is small in resources, it’s big in content»

DOCPOINT / Artistic Director Kati Juurus on the challenges, trends, and the 2022 DocPoint experience.

The 21st DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival is currently on from 31 January – 6 February 2022 in Helsinki, Finland.

Founded in 2001, DocPoint is one of the largest documentary festivals in the Nordic countries. In Finland, it is the only festival solely dedicated to documentary films. Once a year it brings more than a hundred of the best and most talked-about creative documentary films from all over the world and Finland to the screens of Helsinki.

Modern Times Review spoke with DocPoint Artistic Director Kati Juurus on the challenges, trends, and the 2022 DocPoint experience.

PC: Tanja Ryhanen

After nearly 2 years of pandemic-affected event organizing, what did you continue to find difficult in setting up the 2022 event? What did you learn from 2020/2021 to implement this year? Overall, how will you present the 2022 version of DocPoint Helsinki to the public?
To be honest, it’s wonderfully liberating to be planning the 2022 event: a hybrid with more emphasis on the physical festival and hopefully not too many worries about the pandemic, as the vaccination figures are steadily rising in Finland.

With our 2020 edition, we just managed to escape covid-19, which started to spread about a month after the festival – and had our all-time biggest success when it comes to audience attendance. The 2021 festival was a great challenge – we were preparing for a hybrid event but had to go completely online at the very last minute. Under the circumstances, the festival was a fair success, and of course, we learned a lot. Now that we’re busy preparing for our 21st edition, we’re trying to put those lessons into practice.

We will present a hybrid version with all films screened in cinemas and a smaller selection online. Personally, the real festival is a physical event celebrating the art of documentary film on the big screen, with a possibility for live encounters and talks. So we’ll make sure that we’ll have enough screenings of each film and many talks and side events to give the audience (and industry participants) more food for thought.

At the same time, the online aspect gives us an excellent opportunity to cater to audiences outside of Helsinki. We feel that we have an important role in bringing people films that will not be seen anywhere else in Finland. It may be even more important to make great documentaries accessible to people in small towns where cinemas never show any documentary films. Some of our masterclasses and talks will also be available online for anyone in Finland and elsewhere to watch.

We have a wonderful and loyal audience in Helsinki, and I know that many people are already very excited about the upcoming DocPoint. We are, however, constantly trying to reach new audiences and are, for example, planning special screenings outside the centre of the city to reach immigrant communities.

PC: Juho Liukkonen

This year the festival will launch DocPoint FINEST, its new industry market. Can you explain a little about the form this aspect of the festival will take? Why was this year the right time to launch it? What are the goals of DocPoint FINEST?
I think the question is: why haven’t we done this before?
DocPoint is the main event for documentary films in Finland and the main platform for Finnish docs globally. Most of the national films we present are world premieres, and we feel that a market during the festival is the perfect way to present them to industry members globally. We think that many Finnish documentaries do not perhaps always get all the international attention they deserve, and we feel that one of our roles should be to change that.

We will make sure that the films on the DocPoint FINEST Market are carefully curated and new – most of them DocPoint world premieres, so that it’s worth a while to participate in the market when looking for new interesting titles as an industry member.

The works-in-progress section will include a limited number of interesting upcoming projects where the experts get a sneak peek at the films. The authors also get a chance to connect with distributors, agents, festivals and other interested partners.

We’re launching the DocPoint FINEST Market together with our sister festival DocPoint Tallinn. Hence there will be new Estonian films along with the Finnish titles.

There is a clear cultural link between Helsinki and Tallinn, Finland and Estonia. Even the weird languages we speak are very similar! So we think it’s a natural step to do this together and underline that Finland and Estonia actually form a «region».

As this is the first year we’re doing the market exclusively online. It will be up to my successor to determine if the market should have a physical aspect in the coming years. But as DocPoint tries to minimize its carbon print, we do not think it’s a bad thing to have a market entirely online.

My philosophy is that we have to look for films that say something relevant about our world and the times we’re living in while having a high artistic and cinematic quality.

As we understand, this will be your final year as Artistic Director. What direction do you see/will the festival be taking upon your departure? What sort of activities do you have lined up?
DocPoint was founded by documentary filmmakers 21 years ago. But with the years, its identity has been chiefly that of an audience festival. I think that should continue to be our main focus: to bring a relevant selection of wonderful new documentary films on Helsinki screens from all over the world.

However, during the past few years, I’ve tried to emphasize the important role we have vis á vis local filmmakers and industry in general. This year we launched two competition sections for Finnish and international films. In 2022 we’re launching the DocPoint FINEST Market.

I think the challenge for my successor is to keep developing DocPoint to remain relevant for and loved by our local audience while gaining more relevance internationally.

As for myself, I will probably terribly miss my years at DocPoint, but I hope to resume directing again (which I have missed a bit, I have to admit!).

PC: Emilia Ukkonen

Speaking of occupying the role of Artistic Director, how would you describe your responsibilities? What sort of philosophy do you apply to the role? As you are also a documentary director, how do those two roles compare?
We like to think that even if DocPoint is small in resources, it’s big in content. We’re very few working for DocPoint full time, so the roles of each of us are many.

The primary role of the artistic director is to set the artistic and thematic guidelines for the festival – and program the films with the help of a small group of programmers. My philosophy is that we have to look for films that say something relevant about our world and the times we’re living in while having a high artistic and cinematic quality. We want to present films from all continents and don’t shy away from any forms of creative documentary filmmaking.

The artistic director also plans the side programme with the team, participates in communication and marketing activities, develops the market with the team etc. It’s a lot of work but fun.

I think it helps to be a documentary director. I obviously have a deep love for the art of documentary filmmaking and a lot of respect for all the colleagues who are making the wonderful films we have the opportunity to screen. I think the role of an artistic director is a creative one: you develop an entity in which each film has a relevant role (as in a film, each scene should have meaning and a reason to be there). I try to create a selection where films communicate and sometimes comment on each other. When I made my first selection, I funnily felt a bit sad that no one else but me would see the entire selection of the festival!

For you, was there a seminal documentary, or perhaps filmmaker/filmography that kick-started your interest in the documentary genre?
I have a background in journalism, so I suppose I have to admit that my interest in the documentary genre first started with films with a journalistic aspect or approach, such as some of Errol Morris’ films or even Michael Moore (I remember how I was in awe when I saw Roger&Me). Since those times, I’ve developed a taste for a more adventurous and artistic style of filmmaking. If I’d have to name one film, right now, I would say Pirjo Honkasalo’s The 3 Rooms of Melancholia – also because we’ll have a chance to screen it as part of Honkasalo’s retrospective at 2022 DocPoint.

Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Communications Manager and Industry Editor at Modern Times Review.

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