The Unsinkable Teemu Nikki and Jani Pösö
Anyone old enough to recall the holiday movie season of 1997 will remember James Cameron‘s Titanic being described as a “must see” film. But the Finnish filmmaking team of Teemu Nikki and Jani Pösö are here not just to challenge that designation, but the very term itself, with their film Sokea mies joka ei halunnut nähdä Titanicia, or The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic, which made its American debut at SXSW 2022.
“We both have a background in advertising,” Pösö says, recalling the beginning of his partnership with Nikki. “We were in the middle of a horrific telecom project, and he said ‘Hey, since this is always so fun anyway, even though these clients are shit, would you like to write a short film with me?” Pösö instantly jumped on board, and the two men made Kaveri, or A Mate, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival 2009. Nikki and Pösö went on to form “It’s Alive Films,” making short films, episodic television and features.
The genesis of The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic, however, comes from Nikki’s friendship with another artist, the accomplished stage actor Petri Poikolainen. Poikolainen had a successful career until he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and he was forced to retire and go on disability in 2013.
“Nikki and Pösö shot the entire film with only one 35mm lens, putting plastic wrap around it and punching a small hole in the center in order to make certain that their lead actor’s face was always in focus while everything around him was blurry.”
Nikki and Poikolainen appeared together in a stage play while doing their mandatory military service under constitutional law in Finland. “Already at that time, Petri was a good actor. I wasn’t,” Nikki says with a self deprecating smile. “We didn’t see each other for 20 years or something, and then he contacted me through a friend… he also said that he’s blind and in a wheelchair. And of course I was shocked at first, but almost immediately I asked, did he still want to act? And he was like, ‘Fuck yeah I want to act.’”
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic is the story of Jaakko (Poikolainen), who is paralyzed from the waist down due to MS. Jaakko is a cinephile with an extensive video collection. “Toward the end I was watching John Carpenter’s films,” Jaako says of the days leading up to his loss of sight. “When I couldn’t tell the difference between Kurt Russell and the husky, I stopped.” When Jaako connects with Sirpa (Marjaana Maijala) over a dating app, they form an instant bond. Sirpa suffers from degenerative vasculitis, and the couple have never met in person but speak on the phone every day. One of Sirpa’s favorite movies is Titanic, but Jaako angrily refused to see “the most expensive and calculated turd ever made.” When Jaako wins nearly €6000 playing Keno on the same day that Sirpa gets upsetting news about her health, Jaakko decides he must go to her immediately, his unopened DVD of Titanic in hand. None of his usual caretakers can accompany him, but Jaako will not be deterred from his plan to be with the woman he loves.
Nikki wanted to make a film told from a blind person’s perspective, to make audiences experience the world from Jaako’s wheelchair. Nikki considered sticking with a black screen, but rejected the idea quickly. “I thought: blind people, they can feel things,” Nikki says. “They can sense things, and they do imagine the world around them.” Nikki and Pösö shot the entire film with only one 35mm lens, putting plastic wrap around it and punching a small hole in the center in order to make certain that their lead actor’s face was always in focus while everything around him was blurry.
One of the most memorable scenes in the film wasn’t done without any thought of the barrier it would break. The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic includes sequences of Jaako’s dreams, where he is often seen running. In one heartbreaking sequence, Jaako, sitting down for a rest, hears something, and glances over to see his future self, sitting under a tree in his wheelchair, blind and wracked with intense physical pain. In that serendipitous moment, the filmmakers flipped the script on appropriation and injustice in casting by making Poikolainen the first blind actor to portray a seeing man on screen. “I’ve never thought about that before,” Pösö says.
” … he also said that he’s blind and in a wheelchair. And of course I was shocked at first, but almost immediately I asked, did he still want to act? And he was like, ‘Fuck yeah I want to act.’”
Nikki and Pösö hope that the attention that The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic is receiving will lead to wide distribution and greater interest in some of their other movies that have not yet been released in the US. The two men, whose shared passion, vision and cinematic taste—though Pösö does guiltily admit to having seen Titanic and not hating it—are currently at work on their next feature film, and if
The Blind Man Who Did Not Want To See Titanic is any indication, it will be an experience that you have to feel to believe.
Read more interviews with filmmakers in SLUG:
Oscar Nominee Martin Strange-Hansen Has A Lot On His Mind
Dante Basco On Directing his Fabulous Filipino Brothers
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