The Finnish dance film Walks With Me by the artist, director, curator and dance mentor Kati Kallio is an emotional experience that places loneliness and friendship in two distant points as themes and  paints the exciting and meandering line of life between them, connecting them. The screendance artwork, part of the Moving Body Festival 2023 program, wins two prizes: ‘’Collective Body’’ and the audience award. During the festival in July Kati Kallio met with the audience, with artists and researchers, and for all of us it was inspiring to learn more about her work and creative perseus. 

The starting point of my conversation with Kati was the universality of Walks With Me – an outstanding characteristic of the film that is obviously appreciated by audiences. Indicative of the impact and warmth of the film’s narrative are not only the prizes and the feedback from Varna, but also the recognition amounting to awards won (more than 10) and the film’s appearances in official festival selections around the world (more than 35). The artwork narrates without words, with the language of dance, movement and play, representing people from four generations and focusing the imagination on the everlasting topic of human connection as the meaning of our life on Earth.

Кадър от Walks With Me с режисьор Кати Калио 

Kati Kallio is one of the pioneers in screendance in Finland. For more than 15 years she’s been working  and growing in this field and has made 20 short films as a director, choreographer, producer, editor, and screenwriter. She mentioned, though, that she doesn’t like to play all these different roles at all times and enjoys the potential for collaboration that art offers. It appears that her creative journey began with a key project – Breath (2008). In this film the main character tries to quit smoking and manages the symptoms of abstinence dancing at bus stops. Kati admits that she wanted to explore the creation of choreography and achievement of movement through the editing process, but actually found something even more important – that screendance is a great realm to materialise her inspirations and perseus. She says that this form of expression helps her work intuitively and that it is a natural instrument for creative communication of thoughts and feelings. Today Kati Kallio teaches young artists who are interested in dance for the screen. She is a curator of the Finnish Loikka Dance Film Festival. She travels around the world to present her projects and this is how she arrived to the Black Sea to enrich the summer edition of Moving Body Festival with her film Walks With Me

The discussion about the artwork has to be placed in the conceptual context set by the author. Since 2010 Kati Kallio has been working on 5 movies with the participation of elderly people. This way she manages to direct the audience’s attention on those of us who are almost forgotten, who are undeservingly placed at the periphery of art and culture. The closer look at Walks With Me makes us define it as a rare and special film, mainly because of its meaningful core focused on the inner world- the thoughts, emotions, and experiences of 80-year-old Sanna.

The idea first came from a conversation between Elli Isokoski and Kyllikki Piira (prototype for the character of Sanna). Kati is included in the process as a screenwriter, choreographer and director. She shares that her projects oftentimes begin in this particular way – from the simplicity of several conversations, but it is always essential for the film to say something interesting and meaningful to its viewers. That is the reason why part of the script is connected with specific movements in the choreography. To Kati the choreography is the element that is always transforming – from the first steps to the finish line, from instincts and intentions through rehearsals with the dancers, first on stage and then on location, to the last variations in editing when the screendance work is still a living organism, flexible and capable of changing. The cast in Walks With Me are amateur dancers (the kids, teenagers, and elderly people) as well as professional dancers (the mature characters). This is how the creators give new meaning to the creative process. Working on the film builds a partnership network that is valuable for each and every participant. Most of the time the majority of us are surrounded by peers, but communication with different generations promises many surprises, lessons and insights.

The creative process is a dialog between four generations and through dance and play the film itself is a form of celebration of that. Dancers from 10 to 86-years-old work together to tell the story and represent the feelings of the real Kyllikki Piira and the character of Sanna, inspired by her. Sanna lives alone and takes care of her plants. One day she becomes a witness to an event that brings back the memories of her close friends and makes her become aware of her loneliness. A few children play carelessly with big smiles and arms and hands reaching out. They are happily living in the present moment, in the play – without being burdened by troubles, shame, pain, plans and nostalgia for that which will never come back. All of this strikes us later in life and the plot reminds us exactly of that.  The characters multiply – the kids turn into adolescents, the adolescents into mature parents, the parents into elderly people with wrinkled faces that tell the story of all of life experiences and paths. But the smiles are still big and the desire for life – still there and vivid. The final part of Walks With Me is a mirror of its beginning – the happy play of the girls, reflection of Sanna and four elderly women. 

Кадър от Walks With Me с режисьор Кати Калио 

The link between the thoughts of the viewers and the main character connects us in a dance vortex. Sanna is alone, because all her close friends and loved ones are gone. She can contemplate how the world moves, ponder on its incredible achievements, innovative transformations and technological wonders. She can communicate with the next generations, that without a doubt carry their own unique charge. But the realisation occurs – longevity has its own tragedy, the inevitable parting with our loved ones. Everyone with whom Sanna had grown up eventually disappeared. The ones who she played with and shared her infatuations, dreams and struggles are no longer there. Now there is no one who has seen the same things as her, no eyes to have witnessed those past times, and there is something endlessly sad in this kind of loneliness. 

Nevertheless, the movie doesn’t dive deep in this direction and instead chooses to offer different points of view and show the colourful layers of life and living – and that is its indisputable worth. This is visible in the narrative development as well as in the choreography and the cinematographic decisions. Most of Walks With Me happens outdoors, on a bright and shiny day, amongst the green trees. The music is dynamic and doesn’t allow the viewer to sink in sentimentality. The camera and the editing also follow the rules of the game – actively and swiftly – and they slow down the tempo when we are invited to travel deeper into the philosophical dimensions of the artwork related to the transience of time. 

Although the film is focusing on elderly people, it is neither about the end of a person’s journey, nor about its beginning. Walks With Me is about life – full, rich, as the highest of values, and as an adventure we undertake as free as possible, facing difficulties and moments of loneliness with laughter, not forgetting the importance of play and togetherness.

The screendance artwork of Kati Kallio is an invigorating reminder why we are here and how empathy and love act as saviours as we move forward. With the language of dance, with the eye of the camera and the rhythm of editing – Walks With Me.

The article is translated by Miryana Mezeklieva.

This material was created within the project Translation on Air – a section dedicated to dance for the screen or screendance. Every month we invite the professional and amateur audience, tempted by this intriguing symbiosis between cinema and dance, to join our readings, conversations, and discussions with active practitioners and choreographers in this field from the country and abroad.

The project Translation on Air is implemented with the financial support of the National Fund Culture under the program Audiences 2020 and One-Year Grant 2021.

Видеография и референции: 

Short film Walks With Me 

Website Kati Kallio

About the choreographic process in dance film by Kati Kallio 

Ana-Maria Sotirova graduated with a degree in “Film” at the University of Reading, as well as a master’s degree in “Film Studies” at the University of Amsterdam. She is the author of articles in the “Translation on Air” column, part of the activities of the “Moving Body” platform.

Miryana Mezeklieva graduated in Cultural Studies at Sofia University Kliment Ohridski. Since 2008 until today she has been working as a translator of feature films and series for dubbing mainly for the channels of Nova Broadcasting Group.