DocPoint’s Artistic Director Kati Juurus opened up a few weeks ago about her feelings on building a festival in the times of Corona. Her musings were published in the Festival Magazine under the name Hybrid Optimism. The current situation however affects each and every one of the festival team, both in the work to be done and the general atmosphere.
Organising a public event during a global pandemic is stressful, challenging, and rewarding, sums up the DocPoint festival team: “We’re not doing any of the work we would normally be doing in other years, because everything is unprecedented and situations are fickle. We’re forced to resort back to fundamental questions, such as what is a festival, and what does it mean to build one. It’s truly challenging and rewarding to come up with answers to different hurdles, since none of our previous work applies anymore”, says Communications Assistant Inari Ylinen, encapsulating the feelings of the entire team.
The pandemic creates a lot of extra work: behind the scenes we’re preparing for many different scenarios, some of which may never happen. “I started my own work earlier, and I’ve tried to anticipate things and plan various strategies. It’s important to keep an eye on the changing climate, but at the same time it is impossible to anticipate most things. I’ve made my peace with these times, and I’ve accepted that my plans might have to be done, and re-done several times. There’s no point dwelling on it”, says programmer Pieter-Jan Van Damme.
Dokkino brings documentary films to youths and children throughout Finland. Due to Corona, many screenings were cancelled in Spring and Autumn. “When the screenings were cancelled it felt like a huge portion of my job was for nothing. Preparing for the 2021 season in uncertain circumstances has delayed my work and made it harder, as you cannot be sure of anything in this future, but have to plan for it anyway. I’m mostly upset for the students, who have missed out on some valuable cultural experiences”, notes Producer Maria Lehtonen. “When the situation worsened again in Autumn, we made a decision to move our screenings online, where they quickly gained over 4000 views. We were delighted by the thanks we got, and it really showed that there is a demand for high quality films”, continues Lehtonen.
The festival team works mostly remotely, with only a maximum of eight people at the office at a time, with masks and safety distances in use of course. Transitioning into working from home, is perhaps the single most biggest challenge which almost every team member has mentioned. “I’m a people person and I enjoy people’s company: my coworkers are the biggest reason why I love my job. I miss working in the same space as them – and hugging them”, Producer Emilia Saarela adds.
“When encounters are few and far between, their value and importance increases. The rare days that are spent at the office as a “normal workday” are just golden, and appreciated all the more. Seeing your coworkers face to face is amazing!” says DocPoint’s Executive Director Tapio Riihimäki.
“Stopping by the office after working from home for a long time, just made me really happy because tattadadaaa, there’s people here! Churning out work at home each day, you tend to forget that there are others in the same boat! Some have deadlines now, others have them later, these kinds of practical matters slip by, as we’re not all building the festival together at the office”, explains Print Traffic Coordinator Maiju Jouppi.
There are some positive sides to working remotely: “I live far away and work on other projects at the same time. I save several hours each day when I can do almost all of my work from home”, reflects Pieter-Jan Van Damme.
The effects of the current pandemic vary depending on the job at hand: “My job description is fairly straightforward, it’s easy to do alone, but there are challenges in remote working. I’m in a sort of knot-point in our team, as all of the information I gather affects everything and everyone. I have to remember to keep the entire team updated with any changes, and make sure information gets to its destination, and that’s in addition to my main responsibilities,” notes Maiju Jouppi.
“Meetings are mostly online, not face to face. The uncertainty in the plans for the foreseeable future, and the preparations for different scenarios are of course very present in planning out the festival communications”, ponders Publicist Nora Norrlin.
Most of the team is made up of people who have done it before, and take care of their own tasks independently. Starting a new job during the pandemic however, has its challenges: “Getting to know your new coworkers through computer screens and behind masks has made the process take a little longer. Then again, Corona has forced everyone to do their job a little differently. On the one hand it brings a certain amount of uneasiness into the mix, but on the other, it has also brought about common ground and unity”, relays Production and Communication Assistant Lydia Taylerson.
The situation has brought entirely new challenges, as in addition to ensuring our own team’s safety, we also have to ensure the safety of the public and festival volunteers: “There are many things that I’ve had to rethink when it comes to our customers, the team, and our volunteers. All of a sudden, the small task of counting how many tickets we can sell per theatre isn’t something that can be figured out with a simple email, but rather through the outcome of a long and arduous planning project. When it comes to ticket sales this year, the most important thing is to be flexible”, declares Liisa Ahonen, DocPoint’s ticketing coordinator.
A huge help in the festival preparations is that practical matters such as wearing masks, good hand hygiene, taking care of safety distances and other precautions have become commonplace. Everybody understands the situation, including the volunteers: “The volunteers are aware of where we’re at, and have carefully considered whether they are ready to work at a festival during a pandemic, as well as what jobs they are willing to take on. Of course our volunteers will also be equipped with single-use gloves and masks, and our information and tickets spots will also have plexiglass”, details Volunteer Coordinator Anu Lehtinen.
Where does the team draw it’s motivation from, to continue building a festival in occasionally very difficult circumstances? “The constant uncertainty and changing safety measures are exhausting, but this is also an exciting time to be working in this industry: it definitely hasn’t been boring! I’m a little strange in that I find it really fun to be able to test my creative boundaries, how well I handle under pressure, and my people skills in these exceptional times. And the DocPoint team is stellar, there’s a really amazing group of us in the same boat, sailing these rough pandemic seas”, describes Editor-in-chief Saija Holm.
“The fact that in the midst of a global pandemic, we can still provide a safe space for our customers and volunteers to get amazing cultural experiences: it’s really motivating!”, delights Anu Lehtinen.
“At the very centre of putting together a festival, is the people. From the people who make films, to the people who watch them. And especially from where I’m sitting, the people who make the festival happen. Yet again, we have an incredible and skilled team who take care of each other, as well as of our audience. I have no doubt that under this team, the 20th anniversary edition of DocPoint will be wonderful and safe, and despite all of the Corona restrictions, an affair to remember!” sums up Tapio Riihimäki.
Text: Saija Holm
Images: Sami Sorasalmi and Inari Ylinen