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Olli Ilpo Salonen’s “Wendy and the Refugee Neverland” will be in cinemas in July

The film got its start from course work and tells a story about a band that dreams of making it big.
Director Olli Ilpo Salonen at the premiere of the film. Photo: Petri Aho.

Three years ago, Aalto University film directing student Olli Ilpo Salonen participated in an ensemble film course taught by Jarmo Lampela, a professor of film directing at the time. The aim during the course was to produce films lasting 30–50 minutes in which the story focused on a group of people rather than a single main character.

Salonen began to plan a film about a Helsinki indie rock band by using post-it notes to outline the story on the walls of his apartment. He soon noticed that he was working with a feature-length film. ‘I had 90 scenes and I couldn’t give up many of them and still tell the story – I kept taking notes off the wall and then putting them back a few minutes later,’ says Salonen.

Salonen decided to take the leap and try to make a feature-length film with a small budget intended for a short film. He made this decision after ensuring that the actors and work group were committed to the idea – after all, they weren’t getting paid for their work. The film was shot over a period of 1.5 months, and also written the same time. ‘The shooting days were irregular – we organised them whenever our lead actor Minka Kuustonen had time off from her work at the Finnish National Theatre or Espoo City Theatre,’ say Salonen. The actors produced material for their own characters and also wrote dialogue.

Minka Kuustonen plays the lead singer of the band. Photo: Hannu Käki.

The budget only ran out after the editing phase, so the film was actually finished but there was no money left to pay for the music copyright fees needed to present it. At that time, the Finnish Broadcasting Company stepped in as a partner and purchased the TV distribution rights. The increased budget also made it possible to look for cinema distribution channels.

Cinema distribution was eventually arranged quite easily via contacts: Finnkino’s programming manager came to see the film and liked it. Then it was only a matter of finding the right premiere week. ‘Now I feel relieved and happy: our film has the chance to reach a wider audience, even though this means more work for the film’s producer, director and publicist – to myself that is’ says Salonen.

A feature-length film is quite a rare event at the Department of Film, Television and Scenography, where most projects are done as short films. Department's producer Ilkka Mertsola sees Salonen’s film as part of a broader indie film trend. ‘Technology development has made it possible to produce a feature-length film at a lower cost than earlier. Financial backers, distributors and educational institutions are now considering their relationship to feature films made with lighter production methods.’

For the time being, the department is maintaining the maximum duration of a graduation film at 30 minutes. ‘The short format makes it possible to practice more professional production, and we can pay normal wages to the professionals who are involved. Lighter productions also have a greater risk of failure,’ says Mertsola. Salonen is cautious in terms of encouraging his fellow students to make feature-length films as lighter productions: ‘Three years spent making a film is a long time in terms of studies.’

“Wendy and the Refugee Neverland” is an indie-feelgood film about a band that, like many others, dreams of making it big, a turning point that would change the direction of their lives. Minka Kuustonen plays the role of Krisu, the bands lead singer, while Joonas Kääriäinen, Juha Pulli, Jonas Saari, Antti Heikkinen, Linda Wiklund and Joonas Snellman have other key roles in the film. The film will be distributed by Finnkino and will premiere in cinemas on 21 July 2017.

Photo: Hannu Käki.

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