Interview with Your Ciné winner Maaret Louhelainen

Helsinki-based screenwriter Maaret Louhelainen won the second edition of Your Ciné Idea Competition held last August. Louhelainen’s winning concept Echo Beach ­– Me ei mennä ikinä naimisiin (Echo Beach – We Will Never Get Married) is a different kind of war story that reimagines the 1940s wartimes from a queer perspective.

Can you introduce yourself?

I am a Helsinki-based cultural multitasker, museum worker, producer, performer, and a film enthusiast. I’ve kept my inclination for writing somewhat under wraps.

What made you apply for Your Ciné competition?

I got a clear idea for a film during a car trip a couple of years ago. I wrote it down, and since that the idea hasn’t left me alone. I just couldn’t find a suitable way of developing it. Your Ciné came as if on cue, and I thought this is an opportunity to refine the idea and gain motivation for writing.

This year, the Your Ciné final consisted of two days of workshops, during which the competition ideas were being refined. How were the workshop days?

The days were really intense and mentally taxing because my idea contains pieces of myself, and I poured it out to the mentors several times. We heard excellent lectures, had a longer session with our own mentor (in my case, the wonderful Anna-Karin Grönroos), and the next day, shorter sessions with all the mentors. Finally, we pitched our ideas in turn. It was fantastic to hear colleagues' amazing ideas! It was also great to receive feedback and discuss my film idea through various possibilities.

What kind of work is Echo Beach – Me ei mennä ikinä naimisiin?

Echo Beach is a historical queer story that breaks the normative perception of wartime and reminds us that queer individuals have always existed everywhere.

In your speech during the award ceremony, you thanked the queer art community and past generations. How do they influence your work?

Queer artists like Claude Cahun, Klaus Nomi, and trans femmes throughout history inspire me greatly. They have always shaken norms, being at the forefront of art and new ideas. We stand on their shoulders. Also, artists from various fields in my own circle, especially performers, are an important support network for me.

How do you see the state of Finnish queer film art in 2023?

Statistically, there is too little of it. Opportunities like Your Ciné are essential, but there need to be larger changes in the structures for the imagery, characters, topics, and the field of creators to diversify. Hats off to all queer creators in the industry.

What are your plans now?

I decided that the prize money will go towards writing residencies, where I will advance my idea. Fortunately, a couple of mentors wanted to stay on board. At the award ceremony, I received feedback, especially about the feasibility of my idea, and that with this concept, it is possible to apply for grants. So, I’m planning to do that. I would like to see my idea on the big screen someday.

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Towards a more diverse film industry

Your Ciné is an idea competition for emerging filmmakers, aiming to diversify the imagery and stories in films. In 2023, the competition was targeted at filmmakers belonging to gender and sexual minorities in the Nordic and Baltic regions. Ten applicants were invited to participate in the two-day final held in August, during which competitors refined their ideas through various workshops and with the assistance of mentors.

In addition to the competition winner Maaret Louhelainen, Lassi Hautamäki and Susi Siriya Orenius were awarded honorable mentions. Your Ciné was organized in collaboration with the Writers Guild of Finland and the Association of Finnish Film Directors SELO. The competition was also supported by the Audiovisual Center AVEK and Nordisk Film. Your Ciné was held for the second time in 2023.

In the main picture from right to left: Lassi Hautamäki, Maaret Louhelainen, and Susi Siriya Orenius. Pictures: Anna Hallikainen.