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Joonas Berghäll • Director

"Some people had the most amazing, positive attitude to life I have ever come across"


- Joonas Berghäll asked Finnish men about their views in Steam of Life; now it is the mothers’ turn in Mother's Wish, which opens in Finland on 16 October

Joonas Berghäll  • Director
(© Terhi Liimu/HS)

When Finnish director Joonas Berghäll and his camera crew undressed to join their fellow countrymen in 85°C saunas all over the country, “to explore the perception of Finns as uncommunicative and unemotional people”, the Finnish Oscar committee for the first time decided to submit a documentary for the Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-language Film.

Co-directed by Mika Hotakainen, Steam of Life [+see also:
film profile
(2010) – where the naked Finns talk about love, death, fatherhood, friendship and life in general – was also awarded (among others) the Jussi for Best Documentary, and was nominated for the Nordic Council’s and the European Film Awards.

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Now it is the women’s turn to talk, or rather the mothers’. Screened last month at a Finnish Film Gala during the Helsinki International Film Festival, Mother’s Wish – which Nordisk Film will release domestically on 16 October – includes ten interviews lasting from five to fifteen minutes with women around the world who are coping with motherhood, some of them with a personal tragedy to recount, too.

Berghäll scripted the film with Anna Nykyri and Timo Vierimaa for himself and Satu Majava to produce for Finland’s Oktober Film, Sweden’s Mantaray Film & TV Productions, and Denmark/Sweden’s House of Real. Films Transit Montreal handles the international sales. 

Cineuropa: Men in saunas, now mothers and their children – how did this idea come up?
Joonas Berghäll
: After Steam of Life, I started thinking about childhood, and I phoned my own mother and asked her which wishes, hopes and fears she had had for me – say 15 of them. She answered that she couldn’t possibly name just 15, as there would be more than a hundred. So I said, “OK, I will call you back next Sunday, then please give me 15.”

I did call back and I got them, but I also started contacting collaborators all over the world – Finnish mums might have the same aspirations for their children as mothers have in the US, but what about in Ethiopia? They helped me to find the ten mothers who I chose to interview for the film. The five months it took to shoot most of the material were crazy – over three weeks, I would work first in Nepal, then in Washington, then in Mexico. In the US, I would meet an American astronaut, then go on to Tijuana and find a mother among 600 striptease dancers, both with stories to tell.

Besides the astronaut and the stripper, which kinds of women did you meet? And what did they have in common – if anything?
I met women from Nepal, South Africa, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Portugal, the USA, England, Mexico, Kenya and Canada. Many of them had struggled through life against all the odds, facing tragedies that they turned into strength. Most of them should be role models for many of us – most think a lot about their children’s health. My own mother wanted me to have a good education, which is also a common wish, although the circumstances are different in Finland and Kenya.

Can you tell us about a couple of episodes that you found particularly interesting to film?
I got to know this American astronaut, Karen L Nyberg, the 50th woman in space, and I filmed her as she was leaving on an expedition to the International Space Station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. I was present when a baby was born in Montreal and was quite excited about whether the crew would make it in time for the actual birth. It was also very interesting to follow the daily life of the Nepalese woman, Sushmita.

What about one that really surprised you – and one you will tell your own mother about?
To a documentary filmmaker, every day is a surprise – you imagine something will happen, and then something much more exciting is going on, which you would never have thought about yourself. It was a bit of an eye-opener to learn about the living conditions in the Nepalese countryside and the South African slums, but one of the most beautiful moments I can tell you about was when I visited a rescue centre for young girls in Kenya: the 55 girls there had the most amazing, positive attitude to life I have ever come across.

What can we expect from you next? Men, women, children?
I have two new film projects on the go – one that takes place in Finland, while the other has a global subject. But if everything goes as planned, my next film will be a fiction feature.

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