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: 6 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. 

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 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!

Eija Niskanen, artistic director
Time with the festival: 6 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. 

What can the festival audience expect from Helsinki Cine Aasia?

At the end of the day, the festival is worth visiting specifically for the films themselves. 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: 6 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 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 Asian cinema! ^_^

Edited version of an article published on 29th January 2017. The original is available here >>