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CPH:DOX-Bound Anti-Deforestation Doc ‘Once Upon a Time in a Forest’ Lands at Autlook Film Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

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Doc specialist house Autlook Film Sales has picked up world sales on the Finnish film “Once Upon a Time in a Forest,” ahead of its world premiere in the main competition of Copenhagen’s CPH:DOX festival. Variety is premiering its trailer (below).

The film, directed and produced by Virpi Suutari, scooped the $15,000 Al Jazeera Documentary Pitch Award at the last Cannes Marché du Film.

“We are proud to follow Virpi Suutari’s body of work,” says Salma Abdalla, CEO of Vienna-based Autlook Film Sales, attached to the director’s previous films “Aalto” and “Garden Lovers.” “With her distinctive cinematic language, Virpi creates a timely portrait of a generation that builds the most beautiful and responsible relationship to our economy, nature and other human beings.”

The film is indeed both an ode to nature, the wonders of Finnish old-growth coniferous forests and woodland animals, and to the passionate youths fighting to protect them.

Suutari’s interest in bringing the burning environmental issue of forest preservation to the screens was triggered by a very personal and practical issue. “Two years ago, when my mother died, I inherited a small forest. This is very common in Finland where you have around 600,000 private forest owners,” she tells Variety.

“Together with my sister, we started to discuss what we should do — log it, sell it or preserve it? Then at the same time I read the book ‘Awakenings — How I Became an Environmental Activist,’ by Juha Kauppinen. That book was a revelation to me,” says Suutari, who started to look into grassroot forest movements. She then set her focus on the forest rebellion movement Extinction Rebellion, making the young activist women Minka and Ida her two main protagonists.

“Ida was a fascinating 22-year-old girl, a Greta Thunberg-like genius youth, with a strategic mind, while Minka, who was just discovering the wonders of the forest, was a natural talent in front of the camera — like a movie star!”

In “Once Upon a Time…” we follow the young women and their activist friends as they fight the forestry industry, the political system and a deep-rooted ideology, which, since post-World War II, has set the forest at the heart Finland’s economic prosperity, according to Suutari.

At the same time, sensual and poetic images shot by nature specialist cinematographer Teemu Liakka (“Tale of the Sleeping Giants,” “A Reindeer’s Journey”) observe the young women as they immerse themselves in nature, playing with tadpoles or swimming with perch.

“From the inception, I wanted to bring together politics with poetry and intimacy,” explains the filmmaker. “In Finland — and in many parts of the world — there is a lot of prejudice towards the environmentalists. It was therefore important to lure the viewers to this natural world of beauty, to make them understand why those youngsters are activists and what their combat is about.”

Suutari adds: “Having reached a certain age, I really needed this film to remind myself about what it is to be young, radical, daring and brave.”

The Finnish filmmaker hopes her film will fuel the debate on forest preservation in Finland where 90% of forests are for commercial use, a reality which is being challenged by the EU biodiversity strategy aimed at protecting 30% of land and seas by 2030.

“The topic [of biodiversity] is becoming increasingly urgent around the world,” adds Suutari, for whom “Once Upon a Time…” reflects the younger generation’s feelings of anxiety, even grief toward the effect of climate change on our planet.

As with her previous film “Aalto,” Suutari collaborated with composer Sanna Salmenkallio and hot editor Juho Rautaniemi, recently credited for “Compartment No. 6” and the BBC drama “Alice & Jack.”

The film was produced by Suutari Euphoria Film, in co-production with Al Jazeera and Finnish pubcaster Yle. B-Plan will handle the Finnish release on March 28.

Autlook Film Sales’ CPH:DOX slate also takes in the Sundance and Göteborg-winning Norwegian doc “Ibelin,” screening in the Society:Cinema strand.