Mari Mantela’s “An Autobiography” won the MNFF 2017 Audience Award for a Short Film. MNFF sat down with Finnish filmmaker Mari to check in. We discussed the sci-fi western film she’s working on, her experience as an international filmmaker and the risk of sending a message in a bottle.
By the way: You can now check-out “An Autobiography” at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, VT. Mari encourages any new or past viewers to reach out! You can see her Vimeo page here.
MNFF: What are you up to now?
MM: I’m in a really good place right now. I’m polishing a feature film script. We should finalize the script in one month and already have a promising base for the funding. We aim to shoot the film next year. This project is a labor of love. I started to plan this with my artistic team a few years ago. It’s a sci-fi western and takes place in an arctic dystopia. It’s about a female bounty hunter who captures enslaved mine workers. One day the bounty hunter finds a fugitive girl who has run away from the mine who she suspects is her daughter. I’m interested in allegories and symbolism. This film is about contamination and corruption in nature and in human nature, but ultimately makes a statement about overcoming blood ties and finding the human ties.
MNFF: Do you consciously feature female protagonists in your films?
MM: After 13 years in commercial filmmaking, it has become a conscious effort on my part. When I was young I loved Ellen Ripley (as played by Sigourney Weaver). I loved Alien. There is a bit of Ellen Ripley in my main character, Ada. I’m interested in faulted and complex protagonists. Anti-heroes. It’s difficult to pitch a deeply flawed female protagonist. When I present these characters to investors, I find they turn conservative. If I have a female lead who isn’t easy-going, people ask, “Why is this woman so difficult? Do I like her? Can I get behind her story?”
MNFF: An Autobiography brilliantly balances drama and comedy. Do you have advice or rules for making a serious topic funny?
MM: It took me awhile to realize I wrote a comedy. My protagonist literally ends up in a ski box at the bottom of a grease pit. Overly tragic things easily become absurd and comedic. We realized that An Autobiography is the story of an everyday martyr. When someone carries the cross so hard and no one understands them there is great potential for comedy.
An Autobiography is a Swedish-speaking film. I opted for Swedish over Finnish because Swedish is a more compact language. It makes for a nice comedy. The Finnish language is more complicated: it’s long and nuanced. Finnish jokes can be confusing to for an international audience to understand. I avoided the puzzle of Finnish dialogue. In addition to the comedic strategy, the symbols and visuals in An Autobiography place the film in a fantastical world. This felt more appropriate in Swedish.
MNFF: Do you have any words of advice for international filmmakers touring the American festival circuit or those attending MNFF this year?
MM: Attending international festivals made me think about the number of short films out there. It’s overwhelming. How will I get my story told in this sea of films? It makes me understand why people use celebrities. I love films that introduce new faces, but when I realized how many films there are I understood why people cast famous actors. You want to penetrate the jungle of films.
Last year was amazing, it was a huge learning experience. Middlebury is made for the heart and passion of films. Hopefully I can visit with my feature film. My impression of MNFF has been so wonderful. I particularly appreciate the great guests that come to the festival and side projects (like this interview) and film tours that MNFF organizes. I’m excited my film is now available at the Middlebury Public Library. Because I’m out here in Finland my film feels like a message in a bottle. It came to shore in Middlebury. If people watch it, I would love for them to let me know, “hey, I got your message!”