Director Mina Laamo’s latest film Sorrow Tamers will be screened in Budapest as part of the Finn Filmnapok festival. Sorrow Tamers is a poetic documentary film about grief based on different people's experiences.
Hey Mina, why did you decide to make a film about sorrow?
It was the main thing that was on my mind, because I was sad at that time. It was a subject that bothered me somehow. I think that maybe films should be made about subjects that don't leave you alone. That brings us to the classic question of whether we choose the subjects or whether the subjects choose us. I tend to think that the subject chooses us.
At the time, I was tired of pretending. I was tired of the constant "how are you, I’m good thanks" kind of conversations, when I really wasn’t good. Then when I started saying that I wasn’t actually doing well at all, the conversations became really interesting, much more meaningful and honest. I realised that talking openly about your grief not only makes your life easier, but also breaks down some of the taboo that still seems to exist around grief.
I think the world would be a better place if people were more honest about themselves, their feelings and their motives. I believe that much of the experience of anger, for example, actually stems from grief. If people got in touch with their emotions of grief, there would be less anger in the world.
I met you five years ago through a mutual friend, we started talking about our breakups and the sadness following them, and that's how I ended up as a character in the film. How did you find the other people in the film and what interested you about their experiences?
I found the other characters in the film in a very similar way. I didn't know everyone beforehand, but they had some connection to my life, like a friend of a friend. Some of them were grieving the loss of someone, some something else, but we were all affected by some kind of experience of sorrow. This film was made over a very long period of time, with several years between the first and last person being filmed. Occasionally when I was talking to someone, I got the feeling that this could work in a film, and I asked them very quickly to join in. I believe in making films intuitively, you don't always have to rationalise everything.
In this film I wanted to focus on the feeling itself, not on what had happened before or after. I wasn't interested in a story of survival, but in exploring the experience of emotion. We have a great need to make narratives out of everything, and a story always has a certain structure and pattern, a certain beginning and end. But life does not follow the pattern of a story, or if it does, it does so in a very forced and somehow false way, because that story could have been told in many other ways as well. Even in the editing phase, we actively tried to fight against storytelling, because a story also simplifies and excludes a lot of things. That is why this film does not follow a traditional story arc with a clear beginning and end. It ends in a fading way, with the idea that life goes on. I didn't want to define the characters as victims, but I didn't want to define them as heroes either, because victims and heroes are characters in a story. Perhaps this film is somewhat a rebellion against the form and structure of the story.
Sorrow Tamers is shot on 16mm black and white and 35mm colour film. How did you decide to shoot on film?
I thought that many people might be alienated by the topic of this film. We don't feel like putting a lot of energy into reflecting on grief unless we are sad at the time. So I thought that this film must be made appealing in some other way, and shooting on film might elevate this theme or break the mundanity of it.
The portrayal of grief is often quite stereotypical. When there is a disaster, the broadcasters show us candles and gravestones. It's quite shallow, even though grief is really an inner experience that can be contradictory. If you are really angry, which is a normal reaction when grieving, can you recognise that complex emotion in that portrayal? I think not. Maybe in some way I thought that shooting on film brings new dimensions to the representation of grief.
How does shooting on film differ from shooting digitally in terms of working method?
For example in the sense that much less footage is produced because it’s expensive to shoot on film. That means there is no rush to get the camera rolling quickly, and the things you do can be done carefully. This approach was in line with the theme of the film. It would be strange to talk about sorrow and acceptance, but at the same time make people hurry up on the set. I think that the way things are done has a significant impact on the outcome. The filming process and the final result are not separable. Every film has its own philosophy, what that film follows, and that philosophy of the film is linked to the method of making that film. I don't think that films are always made in the same way, but in a way that suits the subject in question. It is possible to create a calm atmosphere on set also when shooting digitally. It's a choice between how you schedule your days and whether you are interested in the atmosphere or the amount of footage.
What did you learn about sorrow while making this film?
Probably that you shouldn't struggle so much. We're always trying to control and plan everything ahead, but grief is an experience that you can't schedule or choose. And there is no right or wrong way to experience grief. What if there was a way to approach this experience with curiosity rather than trying to get rid of it as soon as possible? I don't mean some sort of analytical approach, I mean to accept the fact that you are going through this period in your life now, and you don’t need to try to force yourself to heal as quickly as you can. You can let time deal with it. Of course, if you feel you need help, you should have access to it.
We are constantly trying to solve things. As if the experience of grief should also be a process of development. But grief doesn't work that way, the world doesn't work that way, and neither do we. Sometimes we regress and sometimes we stand still. I wish we could be more compassionate towards ourselves. Maybe a period of mourning could be a time when we don’t demand so much of ourselves.
Sorrow Tamers will be screened at Cinema Toldi on Thursday 16th of February 2023 at 6pm.
Tickets and more information: https://toldimozi.hu/filmek/12-finn-filmnapok-buszeliditok
Photo by Emmi Holopainen