Helsinki Cine Aasia – Get to know the organisers

Helsinki Cine Aasia is organised by the Asian Cinema Association of Finland. It was founded in 2011 by four experts on East Asian cultures and cinema – Eija Niskanen, Jenni Peisa, Leena Eerolainen and Johanna Rissanen.

The inaugural Helsinki Cine Aasia took place in 2013. Of the awesome founding foursome, Niskanen, Peisa and Eerolainen are still tightly involved in organising the festival. Below they talk about their relationship with Asian cinema and some memorable moments along their festival journey so far.

In the picture, there are members from the Helsinki Cine Aasia organising team in 2014. From left to right: Sonia Junttila, graphic designer, Leena Eerolainen, producer, Johanna Rissanen, producer, Ria Vaahto, press officer and Jenni Peisa, managing director. In the middle is Eija Niskanen, festival’s artistic director.

Jenni Peisa, managing director
Time with the festival: 5 years

Our executive director Jenni is responsible at a general level for practical arrangements such as booking spaces, ticket sales and general planning. Jenni is part of the committee which prepares Helsinki Cine Aasia’s programming by, among other things, visiting Asian film festivals. This year, related to the anniversary, the update to the visual look of the festival as well as the new location, have been the cause of some extra work.

Tell us something personal about yourself:

When I was younger – in the 90s – I got excited especially about Hong Kong cinema, which I watched on, for example, pirate copies with Dutch subtitles. I was a big Jackie Chan fan and wound up practicing and teaching Kung Fu actively for several years. In the early 2000s, I started studying Chinese at the University of Helsinki and became more familiar with Chinese contemporary cinema and specialised in it in my studies. I’ve become familiar with other Asian cinema through general film buffery.

What kind of films appeal to you?

I think one can find a good film in any genre. However, for myself, I have noticed the most important elements to be the characters and the visual appearance. Also absurdity and melancholia, and especially these two together, have a strange appeal to me.

What is your funniest memory from the first five years of the festival?

One of the funniest memories along the Helsinki Cine Aasia journey is when the festival hosted the Japanese director brothers, the Watanabes. They were the most adorable gentlemen on their first trip abroad. They are big fans of the Moomins and luckily for them, at the time of their visit the Ateneum had on a large Tove Jansson exhibition where they managed to acquire a lot of souvenirs. Another adorable thing was the box of sweets sent to us festival organisers by the granny who appears in their film!

What are you expecting from this year’s festival?

Helsinki Cine Aasia celebrates its fifth anniversary this year. Related to this, the festival gets a visual uplift and moves to a new location at Korjaamo Kino in addition to our old location, Orion. I expect a lot of new buzz around new kinds of events we are introducing and, once again, a wonderful selection of fantastic and affective films!

Eija Niskanen, artistic director
Time with the festival: 5 years

The artistic director of the festival, Eija, is responsible for the festival’s programming, maintaining contacts with distributors and securing screening rights as well as organising the transportation and customs declarations of the films screened. Together with the rest of the team, Eija also works with various Asian embassies, organises the travel of international festival guests and performs hostess duties during the festival.

How was the idea for setting up Helsinki Cine Aasia conceived?

In the early 2000s Finland, there was an Asian cinema festival -shaped gap in the market. The Helsinki International Film Festival, which I had been involved in founding, had in the 90s a large representation of Asian films in their programme which had subsequently got less. Asian films were also hardly ever chosen for general release. For a long time, I had been thinking that something should be done about this. I knew Jenni Peisa already from my time with the Helsinki International Film Festival and Leena Eerolainen was my student when I taught a course on Asian cinema at the University of Helsinki. I bumped into Leena at the Tokyo International Film Festival and that was the initial spark for starting this film festival. We noticed that individually we had all been long thinking about how to bring more exposure to the unbelievably varied and colourful Asian film industry in Finland.

What is your own relationship to Asian cinema?

My interest in Asian cinema is due to Akira Kurosawa. When I was studying art pedagogy at the University of Jyväskylä there was a wide-ranging Kurosawa season at university’s Campus-Kino. After attending these screenings I ended up writing my thesis on Kurosawa. At the moment  in the field of anime, I am interested in Euro-Japanese cooperation in producing, which has also been started in Finland. Also the film industry of Southeast Asia is on the rise and this is also reflected in our festival programme.

What is special about the offerings at Helsinki Cine Aasia this year?

Our new location at the cultural factory Korjaamo excites me and also presents us with new challenges. I believe that our audiences will enjoy themselves there and also at our traditional venue Orion. At the end of the day, the festival is worth visiting specifically for this year’s films. Asian cinema is so varied that everyone is guaranteed to find something enjoyable: drama, historical adventure, thrillers, animations, films investigating social reality!

Leena Eerolainen, producer
Time with the festival: 5 years

Our corporate partnership and marketing manager, Leena, has been responsible for communications with the festival’s partners as well as marketing the festival and editing the festival catalogue. Together with the rest of the team, Leena is also responsible for selections for the festival programme – especially the more light-hearted offerings – and she has also graced the festival stage, for instance interpreting the Q&A with the Watanabe brothers from Japanese to Finnish.

What kind of films do you enjoy yourself?

I am a big fan of sci-fi and all sorts of fantasy films. Because I analyse horror films for a living, I enjoy watching more light-hearted stuff in my spare time. Out of Helsinki Cine Aasia programming, one of my all time favourites has been Library Wars (2013) by the Japanese director Shinsuke Sato. The film is the perfect serving of entertainment, humour based on the chemistry between characters and action all spiced up with a touch of social criticism based in a future alternative reality. Shuichi Okita’s films also warm the cockles of my heart.

What is most interesting right now in Asian Cinema?

For me the most interesting phenomenon right now is the return of Shin-Gojira i.e. Godzilla! The reboot is very good and as a fan of monster movies and sci-fi I am eagerly awaiting what the future holds for this iconic series of films.

Share us a piece of inside knowledge on the Helsinki Cine Aasia anniversary:

Well, at the moment I am amused by the fact that my baby is due during the festival week. As well as the anniversary then, we can expect Helsinki Cine Aasia’s own festival baby! Perhaps this is the secret impetus for the first parent and baby screening of the festival this year?

What else would you like to say to the festival audience?

Come along and give us some feedback on the festival! We are always looking to improve and all feedback is welcome. Come and enjoy the colourful splendour of Asia at our fifth anniversary! ^_^