Jenni Toivoniemi studied screenwriting in several international workshops, including Torino Film Lab’s Script & Pitch and Berlinale Talent Campus
Script Station. She is about to complete her MA in screenwriting and directing in Helsinki’s ELO Film School and is developing her next project as a
feature director. Toivoniemi is also a cofounder of the film production company Tuffi Films. (From Sundance)
Women and Hollywood: Please give us your description of the film playing at AFI.
Jenni Toivoniemi: It’s a short film called The Date (Treffit), a film about 16 year old Tino who is forced to host a date to his family’s stud
cat. In the course of the events his manhood is tested in front of two women, Mirkka, 27 and Lissu, 54.
WaH: What drew you to this story?
JT: I’ve always been interested in the human – animal relationships and how sometimes people seem to live through their pets. A few years ago, I saw an
awkward geeky teenager at a cat show with a very masculine stud cat and I heard the cat had sired several litters. I felt there was a story to be told.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge?
JT: I think this film was made under lucky stars. I was nervous about having cats, an amateur actor and another actor that has not been playing for cinema
before. We had very little money so I was also in charge with the cinematographer, Jarmo Kiuru, of the art direction. But everything went surprisingly
smooth on our 2 day shoot. I think the biggest challenge was probably all the time it took me to convince myself that I should also direct (I started as
a writer). After that it was mostly just joy.
WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?
JT: I don’t know if I have any gender specific advice for female directors, and I feel a bit uneasy giving advice at all. However, for directors just
starting out I would advise you to only make films you feel really have to be made if there is this urgency to make them. I think that’s the only way to
keep the film fresh and do something potentially meaningful. But as a woman to another woman. We are still an exception to the rule and there are a
lot of mechanisms that are harmful for us. It’s good for all of us to have more women doing these things. Be generous and to help other women to make great
WaH: What are the biggest challenges and or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?
JT: I guess the biggest challenge is where to find the money to actually make the films – it seems more and more difficult and more that you have to make
the films before getting them financed. There are great opportunities too in finding audiences all over the world. It’s a huge advantage for filmmakers
like me, coming from a country of a population of only 5.5 million, in that it will get easier to find the audiences for the type of films I want to make. How
that generates any money to keep making the films is still a bit of a question mark, but I’m sure it will happen.
To myself, I find it challenging that the future seems to demand a lot of presence on social media, creating a fan base for your films etc. I would like to
spend more time in real life than I am doing now and the idea of having to engage more on social media makes me anxious. Direct contact to the audiences
can be a blessing or a curse. There’s also a lot of negativity on the internet and the people you are not making your films for can be very vocal. To
keep yourself working and not be paralyzed by all the criticism can be difficult when you are supposed to spend a lot of time on the Internet.
WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.
JT: It’s difficult to name just one. I love films by Lynne Ramsay. Andrea Arnold, Kelly Reichardt, Agnes Jaoui and Claire Denis have made amazing films.
Gabriela Pichler from Sweden and Zaida Bergroth and Pirjo Honkasalo, female directors from my own country, (Finland), are huge inspiration for me.
Honkasalo’s new film Concrete Night which premiered in Toronto this year is a rare cinematic jewel. Personally films that leave me breathless and still
manage to give me some sort of hope are the films that stay with me forever.