From Finnish filmmaker Arthur Franck comes The Hypnotist, a transfixing Cold-War docu-thriller about Olavi Hakasalo, a.k.a Olliver Hawk, Finland’s most famous hypnotist, who might—or might not—have been a key political operative for the nation’s ruling powers. A wild ride, full of subtle contemporary echoes about the risks of populism and public manipulation, The Hypnotist charts both the rise and fall of a mysterious man and the murkiness of truth. Below, Franck gives us insight into how he chooses a documentary subject, and how Finnish, Cold War-era politics may have more to say about the world we live in today than you’d expect.
What inspired you to bring the real-life story of The Hypnotist to the screen?
For me, the process of choosing your subject and main character for a documentary is comparable to falling in love. It is hard to describe exactly how it happens and why, but in this case it was pretty much instant. A friend told me about this strange hypnotist called Olliver Hawk, who had gone through a bizarre rise and fall in Finland between the 50s and late 80s. As soon as I heard his voice in an old hypnosis recording and simultaneously found a photograph of him online, I was overcome by a conviction that I would be spending a lot of time with this man and his story. I didn’t know it would take me 4 years, but I knew an adventure had begun for sure.
You’ve been making documentaries for over a decade, how is The Hypnotist different from your previous work?
It is different mainly in terms of scope and ambition, since it is my first feature-length film. I had experimented with themes that are explored in The Hypnotist in some of my previous films, such as the complexities of multiple “truths,” self-mythologising, and the overlap between real life and performance. But in The Hypnotist I had a main character that allowed me to go deeper into those themes.
Though historical, does The Hypnotist speak to contemporary society and concerns?
While editing the film, we began to realize how many aspects of the story are in direct dialogue
with some of the things we see happening in society, especially in politics, today. This was not
our intent from the start, but what often happens is that the film starts to tell you in which
direction it needs to go, and as a filmmaker, one must be sensitive to those signals and follow
them down the rabbit hole. So, populism ended up becoming an important element in the story.
How have audiences responded to your film?
Really well so far, at least that is what they tell me. People are so polite that I don’t know if I can trust them.
What excites you about bringing your film to the Chicago International Film Festival?
I’ve never been to Chicago before, and I’m bringing my wife and kids along for the ride which is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to hearing what the Chicago audience thinks of the film and meeting new people.
What other films are you excited to see at the festival?
What do you hope audiences take away from The Hypnotist?
That’s a hard question. I hope they have fun with it, and maybe walk away with some insight
into Finnish Cold War politics.
The Hypnotist screens Tue, Oct 22 @ 8:30 pm and Wed, Oct 23 @ 1:00 pm with Arthur Franck in attendance. Buy tickets here!