The awarded Finnish director speaks about the current changes in the documentary industry, and reveals what her next film is about.

Finnish writer and director Anu Kuivalainen, who has worked over 30 years in the field, received the lifetime achievement award at the Helsinki Documentary Festival on Sunday.

The Aho&Soldan Lifetime Achievement Award is given based on “significant contributions to the creative development of Finnish documentary filmmaking and a long and outstanding career in the field”.

She first started directing documentaries in the early 1990s and is renowned for her visually and emotionally strong films.

“To make documentaries hasn’t become more easy at all, the funding is getting less and less and the competition is really hard.”

Anu Kuivalainen has won the National Competition of the Tampere Film Festival twice and received a special Jussi for her film, Christmas in the Distance (1994). The film is a personal documentary about the young director reaching out to her father, whom she has only seen in an old photograph.

Anu Kuivalainen says that securing funding for documentary filmmaking has become more challenging over the past 30 years. Even though she is among the leading professionals in documentary film making, she is still struggling to get funding for her work.

It takes a long time to get the decision and the process at least in Finland is sluggish.

“If you are doing a film where you follow something that is happening in someones life, you would need to get out there and film. But when the decision process for funding takes long, you can’t do that.”

“I have done films that I don’t think would have gotten funding if I had pitched them today. For example Aranda.”

Aranda is a film produced by Markku Tuurna at Filmimaa. Instead of featuring a main character, the marine research vessel Aranda serves as the protagonist. The documentary emphasizes the human thirst for knowledge and it was filmed for six years.

“I feel that every time I start a new project, I start from scratch. When it comes to funding, it doesn’t matter what you have done before. The competition is really hard”, she tells us.

The lifetime achievement award gives a kick and energy for her new project, a planned documentary film that portrays a theater group for people that are getting out of jail, Porttiteatteri, which translates to “gate theater”.

“I’m interested in how these people take their masks off and how they build a new identity with the help of art.”

She has spent eight months with the group to familiarize herself with them. The film is yet to secure its major funding.

“I’m building up a connection to the group som that they can trust me as director.”

In the future, Anu Kuivalainen thinks it will be even more important to do bold documentary films. More money is needed to keep the quality up and to enable filmmakers to take more risks.

“Soon the audience might not be able to tell the difference between a documentary film and the reality that is pushing from the social media.”