Q&A: Virpi Suutari on the Lush and Verdant ‘Garden Lovers’

Unflinchingly candid and beautifully romantic, Garden Lovers is an examination of life’s poetry. Following a diverse group of Finnish couples whose passions are rooted in the tender care of their gardens, this documentary frames the delicate mundanity of everyday life with breathtaking stillness and beauty. Lush and verdant, this work by director Virpi Suutari is a healing consideration of nature’s grand design, an ultimate homage to the profound and bittersweet splendor of love in all its panoply of form.


What inspired you to tell this particular story?

Virpi Suutari: I thought the garden would be the perfect scenery to deal with the basic existential questions… including birth and death. I wanted to explore my fellow creatures as part of nature, see them with humor but with a kind heart.

(I am a garden maniac myself, and so was my father, who taught me everything about gardening. As I was making this film, I prepared myself to face the fact that I was going to lose him.)

How did you find your families, and how long did you spend with them? Did it vary?

Virpi Suutari: I placed ads in some gardening magazines looking for potential protagonists, and I got over 70 responses from all over Finland.

During the research period, I recorded several voiceover interviews with the final protagonists. By the final shootings the atmosphere was already very relaxed, playful, sometimes even euphoric.


I imagine most of the footage was as gorgeous as what we see in the film. What was your editing process like? How did you whittle it down?

Virpi Suutari: When you shoot a documentary with a big camera, you don’t get too much extra material—you already edit it to a certain point in the shooting. The challenge for the editing process was a dramaturgical one: we had 7 couples as protagonists.

In the final film the couples are reflecting different facets of human beings; they are not only representing themselves.

We also intentionally created tensions combining everyday trivialities with poetical elements. For example, I am extremely happy how subtly we managed to deal with death in the film.

What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

Virpi Suutari: I hope that they would see more tenderly both themselves and their close ones.


Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Virpi Suutari: Be curious, be patient, don’t give up. Recognize yourself in others.

We’re sorry you won’t be joining us at HIFF. What do you like best about film festivals?

Virpi Suutari: Quality films that challenge the storytelling boundaries.

But to tell you the truth: if I was there in person, I would probably walk by the sea and peek into the locals’ gardens.

Garden Lovers will have its East Coast premiere in the World Cinema section at HIFF 2014. Find tickets. Follow the film on Facebook and Twitter.

Virpi_SuutariVirpi Suutari has directed and written many successful documentary films like Synti – Dokumentti Jokapäiväisistä Rikosista (1996), Valkoinen Taivas (1998), Joutilaat (2001) (together with Susanna Helke) and Auf Wiedersehen Finnland (2010). Virpi Suutari’s latest documentary film is Hilton! (2013). Her films has been seen and awarded in many festivals. Suutari has been a member of film festival’s jury many times, amongst others in Nyon, Switzerland. Virpi Suutari is also a member of European Film Academy.