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Back To The Führer: Iron Sky Director Interviewed
Stephen Dalton , March 7th, 2012 04:08

This spring's unexpected cinema hit is set to be a Finnish science fiction comedy about Nazis from the Moon. Iron Sky director Timo Vuorensola talks fascism, fan funding and uniform fetishes with Stephen Dalton

Hyped into a notorious online sensation months before it was unveiled to great fanfare at the Berlin Film Festival last month, the Finnish sci-fi action comedy Iron Sky is a genius one-line premise that grew into a patchy but sporadically hilarious retro-kitsch steampunk blockbuster. Fleeing Germany after World War II, a colony of renegade Nazis has thrived in secret on the dark side of the Moon for decades. Building up an invasion force of heavy metal battleships, they regard Earth with envious eyes, slowly and surely drawing their plans against us.

In truth, Iron Sky is groan-inducingly camp and sense-batteringly brilliant in roughly equal measure. The low-rent cast ham up the jokes shamelessly, while the laboured script relies too much on broad slapstick. That said, it is still much funnier than the last 15 Adam Sandler comedies combined. More impressively, the special effects are world-class and the dazzling production design full of witty touches, from a swastika-shaped lunar fortress to the humungous lead zeppelins that serve as aircraft carriers during the Nazi invasion of Earth. Think Starship Troopers meets Mars Attacks!, but with an extra twist of trashy John Waters humour.

A Finnish-German-Australian co-production partly financed by crowdsourcing small sums of money from online fans, Iron Sky is arguably the most heavy metal movie ever made, from its figure-hugging Nazi uniforms and armour-plated spaceships to its mock-Wagnerian soundtrack by Slovenian art-rock provocateurs Laibach. Even the director, Timo Vuorensola, has a sideline as the singer in the 'dark industrial' band Älymystö (see video below). When we meet in snowy Berlin, the 32-year-old Vuorensola is fresh from the world premiere, still hustling and hyping a deranged labour of love that has dominated the last five years of his life.

From The Sound Of Music to Schindler's List, Nazis have always been box office gold. What's the evergreen appeal to filmmakers?

Timo Vuorensola: Obviously the visual side of it has its own appeal, but I think it's also this undying interest towards eternal evil. It's like the ultimate evil. But at the same time – this film been made very seriously, for good reason, but I think it's about time for the more comedic approach. The sinister side has become maybe a little bit like aesthetic noise. With the comedic approach, I think you maybe unearth something that makes you realise what this was all about

So... you're saying there is a serious subtext to a camp sci-fi comedy about Nazis on the Moon?

TV: Hur hur! There is certainly a serious side to the film, but it's a comedy too.

Where did the idea for Iron Sky come from?

TV: The original idea was actually born in a sauna, as all good things usually are in Finland. One of our writers, Jarmo Puskala, had a dream. He told me when we were sitting in this sauna: "I had a dream, and in this dream I was riding a bicycle, and on my shoulder was a little Hitler who was yapping at my ears, really angry. And then I woke up and thought, let's make a film about Nazis from the Moon!"

Nazis are still a hugely controversial and sensitive subject, for obvious reasons. Did you ever worry about straying into the wrong side of bad taste?

TV: I worried all the time about taste. Most definitely we had a thin line we were walking and we always knew that there are certain lines you don't want to cross. We definitely wanted to be careful with that, but I wasn't really worried about it - I had a pretty clear idea of what we can't do and what we can do. Bad taste can be funny, but we didn't want to be stupid or outrageous.

Nazi uniforms are a common sexual fetish, of course, and the costumes in Iron Sky play on this. Did you take them home after filming to use for sexytime fun in the bedroom?

TV: I didn't, hur hur! They are actually in horrible shape right now. I do know that this uniform fetish exists for some people. Certainly our costume designer had his own ideas about that, and he had fun with that. But it's always been there, this sexual fetish, with all kinds of uniforms. If it's a black uniform some people find it a bit more sexy.

Judging by other Finnish filmmakers like Aki and Mika Kaurismäki, it seems Finns favour a very bleak, bitter, fatalistic sense of humour – right?

TV: Yeah, but this is very different from a Kaurismäki movie. I absolutely love the sense of humour that Kaurismäki has, but there are many types of Finnish humour. I would say it is always a bit rough at the side and is usually dark in expression, or dark in general overall tone. We don't have too many things that we hold sacred, so basically we can make fun out of everything

Does Finland still have high alcoholism and suicide rates?

TV: Yeah, very high. We used to be number one, but now we are number three or four in the world.

That must have been disappointing, to lose the title like that?

TV: I know, but we lost to the Japanese, so we lost to the best. Japan, go ahead. Hungary, go ahead.

But Finland also rules in heavy metal!

TV: We do! Finland is the last stand of metal in all its forms. While everybody else is getting into techno and hip-hop, more electronic stuff, Finland still struggles on with our metal bands. Somebody has got to do it. Even Norway is faltering. We are like, Come on guys! Heavy metal!

Is it fair to call Iron Sky a heavy metal movie?

TV: For sure! It's all over the place, it's loud and it's metal. And maybe not too subtle, hur hur! You wouldn't call it subtle.

Did you choose Laibach for the soundtrack because they have been accused of flirting with fascist imagery?

TV: Not specifically because of that. They say it pretty well, they are experts when it comes to Nazis in all possible fields. They are a very provocative band, and they understand the humour value of provocation. I've been a fan of Laibach for a long time and their approach to comedy is something I've always liked.

Iron Sky became notorious via online word-of-mouth and fan participation. Was that a genius marketing gimmick or pure accident?

TV: I wish I could say we had a clever planning and marketing campaign, but it wasn't. Back when we made my first film, Star Wreck, we started work on that in 1998 before there was any social media or virals, there was no YouTube or anything. We've been doing this for this last 15 years so it's kind of an organic thing for us, it's very natural. The only strategic decision we made on that front was we tried to be as open as possible with the production. We always tried to find interesting ways for people to engage and participate – whether it was investing in the movie, doing a part in the movie, or anything else.

You also raised some of the budget from fans online: was that another clever marketing trick or did you really need that money?

TV: We did really, really need it! We super needed it! We had been able to get the budget of approximately 6.5 million Euros together, which was about one million under what we needed. We realised the only way to shoot it all was to get clever with this, so we turned to the community and started asking people for money. That was a fight against big financial entities because it's all complicated investment, and they were a little hard on us, but eventually we were able to make it work. Had we not needed the money, we probably wouldn't have done it because we were a bit afraid how it was going be taken: are people gonna feel that is a rip off, just asking for all their money? Is the industry going to think we're just a bunch of amateurs? But it was received so well by the fans, for the people who invested it was really a great way to be part of an artistic project.

What did investors get for their money?

TV: The first thing they get is a position – they get a credit but they also get a position when it comes to the spreading of the money. So there's me, the producers, and the investors. Once the film starts to make money, based on their percentage, they start to make money back. That's the theory. We also had other ways people could support the film: you could buy T-shirts and War Bonds and stuff. We tried all these things, some worked and some didn't. The funny thing about working this way is you have to try 10 things and you have to fail fast, because none of those work. You just don't fret about it, but it is a bit chaotic.

Were these small investors allowed any creative input too?

TV: No. It's really important, whenever I work with the community, that they understand this has nothing to do with democracy. This is a pure dictatorship. Hur hur! I've seen people try to democratise the process of filmmaking on the internet and it always ends up really horrific.

There are various fascist and ultra-nationalist parties springing up around Europe now. Have any of them been stupid enough to take Iron Sky seriously?

TV: We've had this along the way – but it always dies really soon because then they realise it's a comedy and they start hating it. Then they go nuts about it. Hur hur!

That's one of the problems with Nazis: no sense of humour. Have you had any protests or hate mail yet?

TV: Not yet. But I'm sure that it's coming. Hate mail, death threats, shit like that.

Is Iron Sky Finland's revenge on Germany for World War II?

TV: Hur hur! This is my gift back to Germany? No. The funny thing about Scandinavian countries is they all have a little different attitude to the war. The Norwegians had the whole Quisling thing, the Danes had their own thing, the Swedes say they had 'nothing' to do with the Germans – the Finns were actually collaborating with them for a while, though. But no, there are other movies and other filmmakers who can make a real historical point. My point is rather on the rhetoric, the language of fascism, and how we can hear it in today's worldwide politics as well.

Are you suggesting in the film that modern American politics has fascistic elements?

TV: Yes, but what I want to say is that it's not just modern-day America, I think it's everywhere. In Finland we also have the super right-wing, the True Finns, they win big time in the election. It's happening all over Europe, because financial crisis has always been a great breeding ground for fascist ideologies. They use the same language every time. Nobody learns.

Iron Sky opens in Finland on April 4, with a UK theatrical release scheduled for April 20.

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