"Mrs. President": Upcoming documentary on Tarja Halonen to reveal what the media does not report
What does Halonen whisper to her husband when they are waiting for a meeting with the Ambassador of the United States?
President Tarja Halonen at the UN
By Katri Kallionpää
What does President Tarja Halonen say when she is chatting with her secretary while waiting for the next meeting? And just what does she whisper to her husband Pentti Arajärvi, while she is waiting for the arrival of the United States Ambassador to Helsinki?
All will be revealed in March, once a documentary entitled Rouva Presidentti (”Mrs President”), directed by the Finnish film director Aleksi Bardy, has had its first screening.
Aleksi Bardy and his film crew have been treading on President Halonen’s heels since November 2010.
The crew has been like the proverbial ”fly on the wall”, for instance when the President has met with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia, or with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
However, Bardy has not fixed his attention on the events that we have already seen on TV or read about in the newspapers, but on all those other things we have not yet seen or heard of.
”I myself always think what these people are really like when I am watching the news”, says Bardy.
And that is exactly what made him want to direct the documentary on President Halonen.
And I just have to ask Bardy right away, whether it is true that Halonen is prone to throwing temper tantrums and bossing around her subordinates.
”Such hot-headed stuff or spells of ranting as some people claim to have witnessed; no, I have never seen them”, Bardy notes from the off.
Bardy reports that during the filming, he saw Tarja Halonen in many kinds of moods.
”I have witnessed frustration and impatience, but also enthusiasm and unrestrained energy”, Bardy says.
”I can understand quite well how frustrating it must be to play her role on a full-time basis, representing the institution of the President of the Republic. She is never free from intrusive security arrangements, from the attention people are paying to her, or from the attitude others are taking towards her. It must be tough, and frustrating”, Bardy argues.
When it comes to the bright side, what has amused Bardy most during the filming?
”I have been gobsmacked at how much time the busiest people in the world have to listen to military music. The state visit to Russia with its several parades was in a class of its own,” Bardy laughs.
According to Bardy, the institution of the president also brings about everyday situations that are ”well-intentioned but comical”, for instance when the closest colleagues of the head of state address her as ”President of the Republic” when replying for example to her questions about her schedule.
The president’s family life and circle of friends have been left out of the documentary.
Moreover, the ”inner sanctum doors” to the president’s duties were not opened up to the film crew.
”We have not been allowed to film for instance bilateral negotiations between states. I do understand that there are certain secrets between states. For example, I guess the relationship between Finland and Russia is more important than is the success of our film”, the director admits.
Whose idea was it in the first place to make a documentary on President Halonen?
Bardy says that he heard about the matter first from Osku Pajamäki, the producer of the film. Pajamäki is an influential figure within the Social Democratic Party and a member of the Helsinki City Council, who today works as the CEO of the Finnish film production company Funny Films.
Bardy became inspired by the idea.
”I was fascinated by the idea of making an 'observing' documentary. I have filmed and recorded large parts of this documentary myself. It is exciting to have an opportunity to be involved in situations that one cannot control”, Bardy explains.
In addition, Bardy was interested in Halonen as a person.
”Halonen is interesting, as only a few of the politicians of her generation and in her position are so clearly idealistic. When people go through the political mill, they usually lose something that Halonen has not lost. This intrigues me”, Bardy continues.
Bardy compares the film with the making of an ethnological documentary.
”Rouva Presidentti is a bit like a description of the way of life of the presidential tribe. The president and her staff are like a peculiar tribe, who are living among us while following rules of their own”, Bardy describes.
What about the future?
Does Bardy believe that the tribe’s lifestyle will change, when its leader changes in March?
”I believe that there are many things in the tribe’s way of living and doing things that will remain the same. However, it is clear that the value and personality of the President will be reflected in the way in which he or she will build their staff and work with their colleagues. Halonen’s successor will change the institution in the same way as Halonen has done in her two terms”, Bardy estimates.
The documentary on Tarja Halonen, entitled Rouva Presidentti and directed by Aleksi Bardy (b. 1970), will be released in movie theatres in March.
The documentary will follow Halonen’s life from November 2010 right up to date - to the beginning of March 2012, when Halonen will surrender her authority and title to her successor, the newly-elected President of the Republic of Finland.
The documentary is being produced by Helsinki-filmi and Funny Films. The producers are Osku Pajamäki and Miia Haavisto.
The project has been financed by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), the Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture (AVEK), and the Finnish Film Foundation.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 3.1.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
President Halonen: Growth of inequality in society could be resisted (2.1.2012)
HS interview: President Halonen urges Finns to dare defend victims of racism (15.11.2011)
Halonen says Finland could recognise Palestine (7.10.2010)
Tarja Halonen´s UN legacy (22.12.2009)
The President of the Republic of Finland
KATRI KALLIONPÄÄ / Helsingin Sanomat