One of the highlights of the Berlinale film festival this year was the press conference held in order to introduce the feature film “Tom Of Finland”, directed by the hottest director in Finland these days, Dome Karukoski. Tom himself will be played by the Finnish actor Pekka Strang and the Icelandic actor Þorsteinn Bachmann, who viewers of the Icelandic film “Life in a Fishbowl” (Vonarstræti) know and love, will play an American porn publisher. Other actors include Lauri Tilkanen, Jessica Grabowski and German film star Werner Daehn.
The film will be shot in Finland, Germany, Sweden, Spain and USA and among the multi national European producers is the Icelander Ingvar Þórðarson with his German production company Neutrinos Productions. We met Ingvar and asked the silly question: why is he involved in this project?
“I have worked with Dome before, on his film “The Grump”, and I respect him a lot. I think he is making films about things that really matter, telling stories that have to be told,“ Ingvar says. “In 2016 we still have to fight for the rights of minority groups. It’s absurd that we still take baby steps in the human evolution, but this is reality. The film “Tom of Finland” shows how a man with a medium as simple as his imagination, a pen and his drawings has been able to change the perception of, and on, an entire community. This is an extraordinary tale of an extraordinary man. Hopefully it will open eyes and get a lot conservative people to grow some pubic hair and open-mindedness.“
Aleksi Bardy and Dome Karukoski wrote the screenplay for the film, which tells the life story of Touko Laaksonen, a man who would become known around the world by his nom de guerre “Tom Of Finland”.
The story centers on Laaksonen, who returned home to Helsinki a hero after a harrowing and eventful military service in World War II, but found life during peacetime equally distressing. Persecuted for his homosexuality, he conducted secret affairs and was pressured to marry a woman.
He discovered freedom in his art, specialising in homoerotic drawings of muscular men in sexually uninhibited situations. Over the years, his work developed a worldwide following and helped fan the flames of a gay revolution in the US.
“The battle for equal rights for gay people is far from over and we have a responsibility to aid them in that. Tom Of Finland will do a lot for that battle, I‘m absolutely sure of that.“
“His drawings have had a huge impact,“ Ingvar explains. “Freddy Mercury, Lady Gaga, Madonna, and lots of others have taken inspiration from his drawings in their stage outfits. Besides being a master drawer he was a very good piano player, a jazz player, among the best in the world. He had to choose which art he wanted to serve and he chose the pen.“
Ingvar says the reception of his artwork in other countries took Laaksonen by surprise as in Finland he was not widely recognised and those who knew his work were mostly negative towards it. “I can not really know what Berlin in particular meant to Tom, but I can only imagine how coming from a small village in Finland to the capital of Europe must have felt for a 30-something man. The pulse, the lights, the tempo and heat of the town must have hit him like a hammer of pleasure!
And when he went to the US he thought that maybe one guy would meet him at the airport but there were 3000 guys waiting for him when the plane landed, all dressed in the fashion he had created in his drawings. Imagine his surprise!“
Laaksonen died in 1991, from lung failure, after having lived in L.A. the last twenty years of his life. Many gay men died from Aids in that period, amongst them the love of his life.
“He had a very dramatic life,“ Ingvar says. “And that‘s what we are trying to show in the film. As an artist he is known all over the world but the script writers and their team have spent seven years uncovering the mysteries of his personal life. It’s going to be a great movie.“
Asked if there have been some unexpected occurrences while filming Tom Of Finland Ingvar says there has been lots of them but what has stuck most in his mind happened at the press conference at the Berlinale.
“We were introducing the film’s subject to a lot of multi national journalists when one guy from Nigeria asked if we had any advice for gays fighting for recognition in countries where being gay is a criminal offence, even punishable by death. That gave us a lot of food for thought. What advice can you give people in those circumstances? “Just keep on fighting“? When that could result in their death. It‘s not possible to give any good advice to gay people in these countries.“
Amongst the films that Ingvar has produced in the past are the Icelandic films “Eleven Men Out” (Strákarnir okkar) and “Jitters” (Órói) that both deal with homosexual issues, is that something he thinks is important to cover in films or is it just a coincidence?
“I don‘t go out of my way to produce films about gay issues per se. My interests lie in producing good stories and I also want to stress that everyone has the right to be as he is, no matter what. When we made “Eleven Men Out”, for example, it was believed that no gay guys played football.
Now, ten years later, famous footballers are coming out and it‘s still not even an easy procedure. I think that film broke some ice for gay guys. It was shown all over the world and I think it played a part in opening people’s eyes that of course there are gay guys in football teams like everywhere else.
“I don‘t think that anyone is going be outraged or shocked. Maybe in Russia or Africa, but not here in the West.“
The battle for equal rights for gay people is far from over and we have a responsibility to aid them in that. Tom Of Finland will do a lot for that battle, I‘m absolutely sure of that.“
Some people think that because of the film’s subject it is bound to be very explicit and shocking in some ways, but Ingvar says there is no need for such worries. “It‘s a mainstream film without adult scenes, not a sugar-coated Hollywood film of course, but I don‘t think that anyone is going be outraged or shocked. Maybe in Russia or Africa, but not here in the West.“
The shooting of Tom of Finland is almost half done and the film will be introduced to potential distributors at the Toronto film festival in September. It is set to premier at the Berlinale in February next year.