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Meet the DocuWeeks Filmmakers: Joonas Berghall & Mika Hotakainen--'Steam of Life (Miesten vuoro)'

By IDA Editorial Staff

Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeksTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from July 30 through August 19 in New York City and Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to continue this series of conversations, here are Joonas Berghäll, director/writer/producer, and Mika Hotakainen, director/writer, of Steam of Life (Miesten vuoro).

Synopsis: Naked Finnish men in saunas speak straight from the heart and in the warmth of rusty stoves, cleansing themselves both physically and mentally towards the film's deeply emotional and unforgettable finale. The film travels through Finland, inviting men of all walks of life in many different saunas to share their touching stories about love, death, birth and friendship-about life. Steam of Life reveals the men's naked souls in an exceptionally intimate and poetic way.



IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Joonas Berghäll & Mika Hotakainen: Our documentary filmmaking started while we were in film school in 2002. We came up with an idea to do a documentary about the Finnish military system. We co-wrote and directed the 66-minute film, called Freedom to Serve, and it was finished in 2004. Right after we finished the film, we decided to form our own production company, Oktober Ltd. Through that we are continuing film directing together and separately, depending on the project.


IDA: What inspired you to make Steam of Life?

JB & MH: In 2005 Joonas would go to a public sauna on regular basis. He realized that the men who went there talked about very personal things, in very emotional ways, with each other. That was the kick-start for Steam of Life. In Finland over the last ten years or more, there have been loads of documentaries and discussions in the media about women's emotions and lives. We thought it was time to show that there is a tender and emotional side to men also.


IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

JB & MH: Technically, shooting in saunas--small rooms with temperatures over 200 degrees Fahrenheit temperature and humidity beyond belief--was challenging. The solution was to use S16mm film as material and heat up the camera equipment to match the temperature inside the steam rooms. That prevented the humidity from condensating on the lenses, but operating that hot iron camera was still quite rough.


IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

JB & MH: The biggest change of vision happened in the early stage of writing the script. The original idea was to shoot the film inside one public sauna, but quite quickly we realized that we wanted to shoot the film in various saunas all over Finland. We wanted to show the diversity of saunas and men in different parts of the country. After that decision, everything started to come into focus, and there weren't too many big changes in the vision. Things just focused more and more along the way.


IDA: As you've screened Steam of Life--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

JB & MH: The most surprising thing has been to see the women and men with tears in their eyes after seeing the film. The life situations that our protagonists discuss inside saunas seem to be universal enough for people to relate to everywhere.


IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

JB & MH: We both have been film fanatics most of our lives. The inspiration for filmmaking has come from cinema in general, not only documentaries. Here is a list of filmmakers who inspire us all the time: Akira Kurosawa, Stanley Kubrick, Emir Kusturica, David Lynch, Aki Kaurismäki, Lukas Moodysson, Lars Von Trier, Pirjo Honkasalo, Elem Klimov, Andrej Tarkovski, Ingmar Bergman, Krzysztof Kieślowski...
The list goes on and on. We have had the pleasure of being influenced and taught by the ever-growing wonderful art of cinema, regardless of if it is a documentary or fiction or who made it. Good film is simply good.

Steam of Life (Miesten vuoro) will be screening July 30 through August 5 at the IFC Center in New York City, and August 6 through 12 at the Arclight Hollywood in Los Angeles

To download the DocuWeeksTM program, click here.

To purchase tickets for Steam of Life in Los Angeles, click here.

To purchase tickets for Steam of Life in New York, click here.