The spectacular rise of the green-haired Finnish pop star Alma is one of the most talked about documentaries in the Finnish film affair, “Who is Alma-I?” Finnish director and actor Pamela Tola speaks Diversity About his film.
Produced by Helsinki production companies Lucy Loves and Oscar Huttu, and appearing at this week’s Helsinki Film Industry event, “Alma – Who Am I?” It follows the rise of its content, who is a victim of mental health challenges and who grew up in a socially isolated family with her twin sisters and their disabled parents. Alma is also a musical force of nature who writes songs for major international artists and performs his work to a global audience.
Tola admits that when she knew her subject matter, she quickly faced public issues among the challenges facing female artists.
How did you become interested in Alma’s story and what did you most want to explore in the film?
At first I got to know Alma personally and I was surprised to learn about her life because in her life she had to face a lot of things that were similar to my personal history. I can really relate to the way he has been bullied by middle-aged male industry executives throughout his career. I’ve spent almost a decade trying to finance my first film as a director since “Only” was established as an actress.
Also surrounded by her background of growing up in a very challenging environment, social isolation and chronic illness, just past me. I was surprised when I realized that at the moment he is dealing with the same problems that I faced 10-15 years ago.
So you’ve found a lot of personal and professional parallels that you weren’t expecting?
I began to think more about the reasons behind Alma’s success and her relationship with music. It’s ridiculous that he never really dreamed of being famous or successful. Only because of his passion, talent and personality.
I always had the same kind of fire inside that was the cupboard and it drove me too. With Alma’s story I want to show that it is possible to be incomplete and complete at the same time. That it is possible to succeed in one area and struggle in another.
What did you discover about the most unexpected things about his life and work?
The biggest surprise is how big he actually is internationally. I mean he has served and written music with superstars like Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey. People in Finland don’t really understand that. Because he doesn’t sing in Finnish, for example, there are big radio channels that don’t play his music even though he is the biggest international Finnish artist.
On the other hand, it shows Alma’s courage: he doesn’t think too much about the opinions of others. He was told that he should sing in Finnish because the people of Finland only listen to Finnish music. I really appreciate that he had the courage to say that I would do it my way or not at all. It was also very touching to see how the fans reacted when they met him; You can really tell how important his music is to these people all over the world.
Why do you think his work has become such an international phenomenon in such a competitive arena?
I think it is because of his talent, courage, perseverance and personality. Alma is a very real, authentic person. He’s a brilliant performer with vocals and charisma, but he’s a really talented composer, I think especially when it comes to melody writing. And I think one of the key things is that for whatever reason his courage or stubbornness or whatever he should be able to continue his own work while everyone is emphasizing their advice and opinions.
I also wonder if maybe the sometimes difficult past can help someone achieve something? Often people are too scared to make mistakes so they do nothing, they don’t even want to try. But what happens when you have nothing to lose? What if the bad has already happened?
How did you decide to build the dock? Did you follow as an observer or did you want to actively create some scenes?
So far I’ve been mainly observing and filming. But we still have a long way to go to shoot a photo, so you never know how things will go… Alma has a lot of material that they shot while on tour, so we have a lot of material.
Why do you think the things that Alma has discovered in her work are especially appealing to young people right now?
He is original and genuine and it can really be felt in his music and it resonates with the audience. He is not afraid to be alone, he also shows his weakness. And that makes him extremely strong. And to be honest I think Alma is a great role model or example to anyone regardless of age or gender role.
What was the most challenging aspect of filmmaking?
I guess it’s not surprising that it’s hard to shoot a documentary during COVID. For very understandable reasons travel and access is virtually limited everywhere and we need to constantly risk-assess where, and with whom, shooting is okay.
What is the state of production and what kind of interest and support has been generated so far?
We have been following Alma’s life since spring 2020. So far we have received development assistance from the Finnish Film Foundation and AVEK (The Promotion Center for Audiovisual Culture) and have a distribution agreement with Scanbox and Finnish Streamer Elisa. And we are currently looking for potential co-producers, more funding and international sales. Alma isn’t just a Finnish artist and I think it’s important to open up the story and its world, so that people abroad can also enjoy the movie.