Beginnings

Finland was an autonomous but oppressed part of the Russian Empire from the early nineteenth century until it became an independent republic in 1917. The first feature made in Finland, Lonnbrannarna {Bootleggers), premiered in 1907. The film, of which there remain only a few stills, was a result of a script contest aimed at creating a national cinema. However, Russian oppression and in its aftermath, the civil war—fought between Russian-inspired Bolsheviks and right-wing nationalists in 1917-1918—discouraged other serious efforts. The struggles for the new independent republic of Finland, ruled by the nationalists, delayed the advance of the film industry for another decade. From this period there also exists one of the world's oldest film censorship authorities (Suomen Elokuvatarkastamo), a state office that came to influence the development of the objectives and quality of Finnish film. It had the authority to decide specifically not only which films could be exhibited, but which were

"valuable" enough to be freed from the amusement tax. Throughout the early decades, a strong public notion in the country regarded cinema as "amusement"—as in opposition to art—dispensable, and hence, taxable.

One of the central figures in the early history of Finnish filmmaking was Erkki Karu {1887-1935), who founded the production company Suomi-Filmi in 1919 and directed a handful of successful rural melodramas. The decade of the 1930s was a consolidating period for the domestic film industry, during which Suomi-Filmi— together with Suomen Filmiteollisuus, also established by Karu—became fully integrated production companies, dominant in the field until the period of decline in the 1960s. Other important producers of features were Adams Filmi and Fennada-Filmi, while companies such as Aho & Soldan specialized in high-quality documentaries.

Toward the end of the silent era a handful of films were produced, many of which were Finnish plays and dramatic novels transformed into films. Apart from rural melodramas such as Koskenlaskijan morsian {1923) or classics like Kihlaus {1922), contemporary comedies in urban milieus, such as Kaikki rakastavat {1931), starring Finland's leading romantic leads Tauno Palo {19081982) and Ansa Ikonen {1913-1989), became fashionable.

Many were hesitant about investing in sound equipment in the early 1930s but what looked like a risk turned into a gold mine soon enough, for the Finnish people loved to hear their language spoken on the silver screen. The first sound film, Aatamin puvussa ja v'ahan Eevankin {Dressed Like Adam and a Bit Like Eve, Too)

was released in January 1931. Successful foreign films, often Swedish, were adapted into Finnish milieux, and popular novels were transformed into film scripts. For the first time, domestic films could compete with foreign productions. However, few countries imported Finnish films. One of the most well-known films from the pre— World War II period, Varastettu kuolema (Stolen Death, 1938), was to represent Finnish cinema in retrospectives and festivals, but it was exported to Sweden only. Its director, Nyrki Tapiovaara (1911-1940), directed but four features, and his heroic death during the last days of the Winter War of 1939-1940 has contributed to the myth of him as the lost genius of Finnish cinema. Varastettu kuolema was photographed by Erik Blomberg (1913-1996), who would direct Valkoinen Peura (The White Reindeer, 1952), one of the country's internationally acknowledged productions, which won the International Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1953 and the Golden Globe in the United States in 1957.

The production pace was hectic during the war years (1939-1944) in spite of the impossible conditions, with a lack of film stock, the constant bombing of Helsinki, and many photographers and other male technicians called to the front. Due to obstacles such as commercial embargos, the influx of foreign films diminished, and distributors begged for new films. A number of costume melodramas such as Kulkurin valssi (The Vagabond Waltz, 1941) and Katariina ja Munkkinimen kreivi (Catherine and the Count of Munkkinimen, 1943) were made in response, as were popular military farces. Toward the end of the war, these farces pointedly ridiculed the hostile Soviet army, as in a series featuring two friends in arms called Ryhmy and Romppainen (1941, 1943, 1952). After the peace treaty between Finland and the Soviet Union in 1944, the authorities withdrew the two first films from the market in order not to offend the Eastern neighbor, now an important trading partner.

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