EXCL: Jalmari Helander on Rare Exports

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Talking about his wicked Christmas film

At five years old, Finnish director Jalmari Helander learned Santa Claus didn’t exist.

“It was our neighbor or something. It was quite a disappointment. My parents couldn’t afford an actor or something so they had this strange Santa. I’ve had scary moments with Santa Claus,” Helander jokes, speaking with Shock a few days out from the U.S. release of his film Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

Helander’s bizarre history with the holiday legend seeps into the story of Exports which tells of an archeological dig in Northern Finland that yields the discovery of Claus. Concurrent with this discovery, the locals are experiencing some strange happenings. The local wildlife is being slaughtered and children are going missing. The only one who suspects it could be Claus is a young boy. Rare Exports is a clever gem with terrific surprises. Not entirely horror, not entirely comedy, not entirely an adventure flick. (“The tone of the film was easy to find,” he tells us. “It’s a tone only I can do, I think. It’s flexible.”) It’s a genre mash-up that recalls the fun of The Goonies or The Monster Squad. A sentiment Helander says he keeps hearing.

Exports began as a short film. Helander had more ideas to add to the story and began tinkering with a script for a feature. “I didn’t want to just strip the idea of the short film and make a feature. It took me something like four years to make the script into what you see. The short film is sort of a prequel. The script was a big challenge and the money came quick after it was done. But I had 24 days in Norway to shoot it – that’s really fast.”

Helander admits that 24-day shoot was fairly easy, save for the group of “old naked men who needed to walk around the cold temperatures,” he laughs. “It seemed easier to do when I was writing those scenes. But, we shot in the middle of the night and it’s freezing and it was really f**kin’ hard to do.”

To explain why there are naked old dudes flapping their junk about in the cold environs of Norway would give away a twist in the film. Helander doesn’t mind revealing where he found them all, however. “It was a Norwegian choir these old guys were part of. I was afraid one of them was going to have a heart attack. I’m lucky no one didn’t!”

During pre-production, Helander mulled over the look of Santa Claus – which defies the audiences’ expectations (don’t believe everything you see in the trailer). “We had a million drawings of what he’d look like and how big he was and how to make it. It was the most wise decision to keep it somewhat concealed, due to the budget. But we did have a lot of versions. If we did show it all, it’d become some sort of monster movie, that’s not really what I wanted.”

No doubt, we might see some of those Claus incarnations on the forthcoming DVD release.

Helander is planning to make an English-language film next. In the meantime, check your local theater listings to see if Oscilloscope Laboratories dropped Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale in a cinema near you. The film opened today.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor