When Finnish director Jalmari Helander saw his new film Big Game at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness, he was reduced to tears.
“It was one of the nicest moments of my life,” he says on the line from Helsinki. “It was a really big theatre with a lot of people and they were giving it applauses in the middle and shouting and really loving the film. I was crying in my seat with pure happiness. It was really amazing.
“If you think about rock stars, they play for an audience and get feedback at all times. But for a moviemaker it’s really, really rare you can see the reaction of the audience.”
The movie is a 80s style POTUS-with-a-problem action flick starring Samuel L. Jackson as the U.S. President stranded by terrorists in the wilds of Finland. He’s kept alive by Oskari (Onni Tommila) a teen who demonstrates his bravery by keeping the president alive despite great odds.
Big Game is an homage to the kinds of movies Helander grew up watching, “the old Indiana Jones films or Spielberg.” The kind of films, he says, that “stretch the limits of what’s believable and what’s not.”
Being a director, he adds, also gives him the chance to impart the euphoric feeling he felt the first time he saw Escape from New York or Die Hard.
“That’s the reason I want to make movies, to try and give the same feeling to someone else.”
Big Game’s star is Jackson, but the movie’s beating heart is Helander’s nephew and favourite actor Onni Tommila, who was just thirteen when he shot the film.
The role is very physical, but Onni says the one stunt he was allowed to do was cut from the film and “when I am shooting with the bow that was done in a green screen. It wasn’t that cool.”
What was cool was working with his co-star. Just not the one you might expect. “At first I was nervous in front of Samuel L. Jackson but in the end I think I was more nervous in front of my father.” His dad co-stars as a villager and they share several scenes together. “I want him to feel like… I can’t explain it. In some ways working with my father is harder, but in another way it is easier.”