Helsinki Card

Film director Dome Karukoski

4.9.2019 Text: Helsinki This Week Photos: Fox Searchlight
My Helsinki: Dome Karukoski

Dome Karukoski is one of Finland’s most successful film directors with over 30 festival awards and six blockbusters in Finland. His first Hollywood production about legendary author J.R.R. Tolkien was released this year. Currently he’s developing a series that takes place during the sarajevo seige.

What is your relationship with Helsinki?

Helsinki is home to me, and what makes it feel like home are its village-like qualities. You can walk or cycle practically everywhere. Just as I did when I was a kid. In my childhood, I lived in a small village about 35 kilometres from Helsinki. I moved to Helsinki in my twenties to study. Moving was a big deal. Helsinki felt like a metropolis after my home village Lepsämä and its 2000 inhabitants.

How would you compare Helsinki to other cities you’ve seen abroad?

What’s exceptional about Helsinki is that there is only one area in the city centre with considerable traffic. In other parts of the city it’s pretty quiet. Safety and honesty are also some of Helsinki’s virtues. You can never walk so much off course that you’d end up in bad neighbourhoods. The city and its people are there to help you if you end up in trouble.

In Helsinki there is also a combination of excellently working public transport and good bicycle lanes. Helsinki residents usually own cars just for trips to the summer cottage.

And of course I would mention the numerous public saunas. If I have guests from abroad, I try to take them to a different sauna every day. And usually they always get hooked on it.

In your experience, what do foreigners know about Finland?

They know that our education system and our society are the most functional in the world. We’ve got it good here. People often ask how we’ve built this system and why does it work. The answer is simple: you get more by paying more taxes.

In the United States, for example, they find it hard to understand that taxes don’t take away from me. Instead, they actually give me lots of commodities: free education, health services and social security. It’s good to live in Finland and I’m happy to pay a few per cent more taxes to obtain that. And no, we don’t pay 70% of taxes here, even if some insist that in the US… We pay just a little bit more. That’s how this works.


1. The Esplanadi park and Bulevardi
Both are wonderful places just when the dusk begins to descend and the lights go on. I’ve filmed in both, and they are beautiful, poetic locations.
2. Tähtitorninmäki Observatory Hill
For the Tom of Finland film I filmed in the Tähtitorninmäki the ambiance of a war-time city during a blackout because of bombings, and that felt amazing.
3. Swimming stadium
I would like to film in the swimming stadium at night, but so far, that has remained a dream.
4. Public saunas
I would also like to film in documentary style the joy that people experience when they go to the sauna at the Löyly or the public saunas in Kallio, in Kotiharju or the Arla sauna. There you can closely feel the Finnish spirit.

From where do you get the ideas and inspiration for your work?

Often the inspiration may come from some story I’m told or an article I read. That is, I won’t begin to make that story into a film per se, but some article may, for example, have an interesting secondary character and I get interested in this minor character’s story.

Besides articles, classic literature is a key to big cinematic feelings for me. One book by Charles Dickens can provide inspiration for three script ideas.
Also listening to music is another major source of inspiration for me. And I listen to quite a wide range of music. Music evokes tones, feelings, scenes and even characters in my mind. Sometimes I just browse through photographs. Even one photo can have the source for a story.

Your first Hollywood production, Tolkien, was released last year. What is your relationship with Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings?

I’m the biggest fan of his books. I read Lord of the Rings for the first time when I was 12, the Hobbit when I was 15 and Silmarillion as an adult. And gradually I’ve read all of his books. But his own story is beautiful. It’s a film about friendship and love, and you don’t have to be a Tolkien fan to enjoy it.

What kind of project was Tolkien to you?

It was an amazing but tough experience. For two and a half years I worked for 16 to 20 hours a day and always on Sundays I would catch up on sleep debt. In the Hollywood system you have to give all you’ve got. But it was great. My studio Fox Searchlight is a great employer that supports its directors and my actors gave all their energy to the film. I got to laugh and be moved on set.

I also learned a great deal about myself. I learned to demand even more of myself. But I also learned that I have to control my diary better in the future. Learn to say “no” to things I don’t really need to do. And let go a little of my need to control things.

Helsinki stories