‘It’s Idiotic’: Finnish Film Foundation CEO Lasse Saarinen Laments Planned Budget Cuts

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The Finnish Film Foundation, which receives its funding through the Ministry of Education and Culture from lottery and pool funds allocated for promoting film art, is facing new budget cuts. Its CEO, Lasse Saarinen, speaks to Variety about his battle to minimize the damage.

The cut of 440,000 euros ($515,000) introduced this year might be followed by an additional 1.94 million euros ($2.28 million), making up approximately 8.8% of the foundation’s subsidy and operating budget. The changes, suggested by the ministry, might come into play in autumn or winter.

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“There will be cuts on the ‘cultural’ side. At first, it was supposed to be 18 million euros. Now, I hear it will be 17.5 million. But how they divide it – this can still change. And that’s why we are talking about it,” Saarinen says.

Saarinen, who wrote an open letter to the government, ultimately co-signed by chairman of the board, Anne Brunila, has been vocal about the case.

“I have heard that letter has already ‘annoyed’ several top officials. They didn’t want the cuts to be publicly known, especially because we had such a great year,” he says, referring to such international successes as Juho Kuosmanen’s win at Cannes with “Compartment No. 6,” which scored a Grand Prix alongside Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero.”

“In a way, we have done everything right, we have ticked all the boxes and that’s how they ‘reward’ us. Normally, our market share of domestic films reaches 23%-25%, which puts us in the top 5 countries in Europe. The audience likes Finnish films – they keep cinemas in smaller cities alive. Which is ironic, because the very same cities support the Centre Party, which is where Minister of Science and Culture [Antti Kurvinen] comes from,” says Saarinen, calling the situation “idiotic.”

As the income of the state-owned gambling company Veikkaus keeps on dropping – due both to the pandemic and the restrictions on gambling – it’s time for new solutions, with a streaming levy offering a possible way out, noted Saarinen in his open letter. He urged the ministers to bring into force Article 13(2) of the EU Audiovisual Media Services Directive, allowing EU countries to set a separate fee for streaming services.

“Finland should definitely join the 15 countries that have already taken this decision. It would make it possible to offset the impact of the planned cuts in the sector’s funding and create confidence in the future,” he wrote.

“Have we gone against the wishes of the ministry when we are among the five best-performing countries in Europe in terms of equality in the distribution of subsidies? Do the most important international awards in the sector, such as the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, mean nothing? Is the growing exposure of domestic TV series on foreign TV channels and streaming services not important, as well as the ever-increasing export revenues of the industry?,” continued the text, underlining that cutting the support will have a negative impact on the sector as a whole and its chances of success, both at home and abroad.

“Every euro we give brings the state 1,5 or 2 euros back in taxes. The state always wins, and still they don’t care. It’s insane,” he says, noting that the total spent on culture in Finland already pales in comparison to the likes of Sweden, Denmark or Norway.

He notes that while the cuts won’t necessarily influence the amounts given out to productions, the Foundation might ultimately be forced to support fewer films.

“We would get a lot of media attention if we would just cut all the marketing and distribution subsidies. But we would harm cinemas, distributors and Finnish producers as a result, who already suffered so much because of COVID-19,” he says, while top industry players also seem to observe new developments with growing concern.

“We don’t know what is going to happen,” notes director Aleksi Salmenperä, whose upcoming title “Bubble” was given the Best Fiction Project Award at the just-concluded industry event Finnish Film Affair in Helsinki.

“It doesn’t look very promising. I am a bit worried about the future of feature films in Finland.”

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