For Matti-Juhani Karila, head of documentaries at leading Finnish broadcaster MTV3, ‘documentary’ is an oft-exploited term. ‘In my opinion, there are not very many new real documentaries,’ he says. ‘There are a lot of programs which are not documentaries that are being labeled that way because docs are selling again – I just try to find the real documentaries among the rubbish.’
Karila’s passion for the form and discriminating taste could be the product of his extensive field experience – he, along with his department, produce around 20% of the content shown on the channel’s weekly doc slot, called simply MTV Documentary. He explains, ‘I have the very fortunate position of being able to both buy and produce documentaries myself. It helps me keep in touch with my work – knowing the atmosphere of shooting periods, deadlines, low budgets and the feeling after finishing the production, waiting for the critics.’ The most recent MTV3 production is a 30-minute one-off about the famous Finnish painter Hugo Simberg, whose work is currently being featured at the Finnish National Gallery.
The remaining 80% of MTV Documentary’s content is acquired, generally from markets but occasionally from catalogs. As for fees, Karila says that for one-hour, negotiations start at about US$3,500 – which he believes is the going rate among all Finnish broadcasters. For a half-hour, prices start at around $2,450 – 70% of the one-hour rate.
While he buys ‘a lot from England and Canada,’ Karila has also endeavored to explore new territories for fresh programming. ‘Four years ago, I tried to collect a series of documentaries from Eastern Europe and Russia, but I had to admit that I couldn’t find enough material.’
Recently he has picked up four 25-minute docs from France – a region of growing interest for him. Two are from Paris-based producer/distributor CAPA: Women in the Line of Fire is about women seeking gun control in the United States; and Exodus: Healing Homosexuals, produced by Thierry Vibier, which explores a recent radical Christian movement that aims to ‘cure’ gays and lesbians of homosexuality.
These films are exemplary of the slot’s preference for human stories and for current affairs. Says Karila, ‘We are part of the news department [at MTV3], so we naturally prefer one-offs to keep in touch with today’s events. We very seldom broadcast any series, although I do have a series about New York on my waiting list.’
When necessary, Finnish narration and subtitles are added in-house. Karila explains that while subtitling is expensive, dubbing is simply not an option. ‘It’s the Finnish way of doing things. It’s always nice to hear the original voice. Subtitling is much better than some Finnish actor dubbing it – I don’t like it.’
Letting the characters speak for themselves goes beyond subtitling for Karila. He believes that producers should allow a story to unfold in an uncontrived manner and in a natural setting. ‘It’s very important to let your stars tell their story,’ he says. ‘The typical ‘interview in a living room sitting on a sofa’ is the worst. I always try to tell the stories through people without staging anything.
Last September I interviewed a 27-year-old teacher in Sierra Leone (Africa) who had had his hands chopped off by rebels. It was made in one shot – I did not need any archive material of the cruelties – his face and his hands told more.’
MTV Documentary, which airs 52-minute docs at 8:00 p.m. during the summer months, and 25-minute docs at 6:30 p.m. the rest of the year, generally attracts an estimated audience of 300,000 Finnish viewers.