Research goes to the movies at the Helsinki International Film Festival
The University of Helsinki is participating in Love&Anarchy, the Helsinki International Film Festival, with three researchers introducing three films.

Love&Anarchy, the Helsinki International Film Festival, is a mainstay of Helsinki’s autumn schedule. Known for its international and diverse programme, the event has grown from a one-off experiment to an established phenomenon attracting audiences in the tens of thousands, spanning multiple cinemas and changing and experimenting every year.

 “People used to come to festivals because it was their only chance to see a particular film, but these days almost everything is available from the internet or a streaming service pretty soon after the premiere. But people still want somebody to choose for them,” explains Pekka Lanerva, artistic director of the festival.

According to Lanerva, curation, community and the additional programme have become more important. In addition to guest filmmakers, Love&Anarchy has married food, burlesque and even colouring books to its films. Conversation on film has moved from panel discussions to wine bars.

 “The filmmaker and expert guests make our programme richer and deeper. Often our programme features films that come from places that are unfamiliar to our festival audience, or focus on a topic that is unknown to most. In these cases, some background information can help the audience relate to the events and understand them.”

This is partially the reason why the 30th anniversary programme for Love&Anarchy features introduction videos from researchers under the science theme People in Change. The five-minute clips will be screened before three films: the dance documentary Bobbi Jene, the Japanese science-fiction film Before We Vanish and the political drama The Summit.

Kalsarikänni and the world’s greatest film city

The brief introductions take the audience behind the events of the films without spoiling the plot. The videos feature Aino Kukkonen, a dance researcher and critic with a doctoral degree from the University of Helsinki, Mona Moisala, brain researcher, and Teivo Teivainen, professor in world politics, who introduce films in their research areas from their own perspectives.

 “It was fun to join the project and to watch the films through my researcher glasses, because this was such a departure from my daily work,” says brain researcher Mona Moisala. She is introducing Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film Before We Vanish.

Moisala’s video features factoids ranging from the way the brain processes information to the phenomenon of kalsarikännit.

 “Sci-fi is one of my favourite genres.  But I was still pleasantly surprised to find how many thoughts the film evoked and how it reminded me of various theories. The filmmakers had clearly studied their topic well,” Moisala enthuses.

The other experts also have a personal connection to the topics of the films. Kukkonen interviewed choreographer Ohad Naharin , who features in the film Bobbi Jene, during his previous visit to Finland. Teivainen, meanwhile, believes that Buenos Aires is the greatest film city in the world, and Ricardo Darín, who stars in The Summit, is one of his favourite actors.

Research feeds art, art feeds research

Lanerva finds the intersection of research and art to be highly interesting from the standpoint of cinema. He mentions science fiction as one example, along with Alain RenaisMy American Uncle which combines social science with fiction.

 “Perhaps filmmakers have been so interested in science because film was originally created specifically through technological innovation.”

And it’s not just the artists who are inspired by science, researchers are equally intrigued by art.

 “Artists can throw crazier suggestions around than researchers can. The results are particularly successful when the creators do their homework and artists move a scientific idea forward,” Moisala says.

Moisala believes that art can be an easy way to approach science.

 “Sometimes researchers are afraid that a simple presentation will distort complex phenomena too much, and so they don’t want to participate in public debate. I think it’s incredibly important for researchers to present information in an approachable way and not just sit in an ivory tower, writing for other academics,” Moisala states. “Research which could have practical applications, or impacts on lifestyle, is useless if nobody ever hears about it.”

 “I hope that these kinds of cooperation projects will spark people’s interest – for me, the themes of the film were immediately interesting from a psychology and neuroscience standpoint,” Moisala says.

And while every viewer may not rush to pore over scientific journals after the film, they may still discover something from the introductions that they would otherwise wonder about.