Last year we discovered Mads Hedegaard’s arcade playing friends in the excellent feel good documentary Canon Arm and the Arcade Quest this year we have been introduced to a similar feel good documentary with Einari Paakenen’s Karaoke Paradise which featured at this years Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival (CPH:DOX) – we spoke with the director about how the film came to be and what song you might hear him blast out at a karaoke night!

I wanted to start with how you discovered these fascinating characters and what lead you to making this documentary?

The idea of the film came to me in an actual karaoke bar, where I was with a colleague. I noticed that whenever a person that I had never seen before got up on stage to sing, a strange thing happened – after their songs I felt I had a real connection to the persons, almost like I suddenly knew him/her very well. It felt like they revealed a part of their soul to me while they were singing. It’s very hard to hide your emotions and your character when you sing.

So after this observation the idea came – why nobody has done a film about finnish karaoke yet. I immediately called my producer (it was late and I think she might have been asleep) and started pitching the idea to her!

I think the first character I found was Evi, the karaoke hostess, who was portrayed as one of many people in a book about Finnish karaoke done ten years earlier. When I called her, the call lasted 3 hours. She told me all about her life and the reason why people are singing – She told me that Finns sing karaoke when they are lonely, when they have lost someone, when they are sick or ill, or when they are happy and in love. This was my starting point to go looking for the characters.

Elina and Laura both answered to an ad we put on the internet about looking for people to participate in the karaoke film. Many of other letter might have been something like “Hey, I love karaoke. Can I be in the film”, while both Laura’s and Elina’s letters were long and so touching. They opened about their pain and it was clear to see how karaoke was a tool to help them forget their pain.

Kari I found after googling all kinds of things related to karaoke – “karaoke police, karaoke ambulance, karaoke pet shop” etc. until I typed “karaoke car repair shop”, which gave me a hit.

Toni I found in a karaoke bar, where we had a meeting with my producer. We noticed a shy young man who sang all his songs arms crossed, almost like trying to hide. It was fascinating to see the conflict, desire to sing and being a little intimidated at the same.

There are moments in the movie which show karaoke taxis, saunas, and even garages – how much time did it take you to discover these unique locations?

I spend an enormous amount of time doing the research for the film. I had witnessed over the years how important karaoke is for Finns, as I happen to sing and love karaoke myself. I was sure that because we Finns are quite quirky and dark-humoured people, that I will get lucky finding a variety of crazy-sounding and incredible singing locations. But still I was a bit surprised to find out that one couple had installed an actual karaoke system in their sauna!

What would you like your audiences to take from your documentary?

My humble wish and hope is that after the end credits people have the burning desire to go out and sing – even, and especially, if they have never done it before. I hope that the film brings out a feeling that tonight, right now, we are alive and together as humans. Why not celebrate it by singing?

Like Evi says, we all have a little diva inside of us, and it does good to a person to be seen and heard. I’m proud to say that after this film no one can say anymore that karaoke is boring or meaningless.

Finally if we were in a karaoke bar now what song are you going to sing us and why?

I would go with Stand by me by Ben E. King. It’s an important song that brings out the memories of my childhood, of all those care-free short summer holidays. The song is both uplifting and melancholic, which is a Finnish karaoke in a nutshell. 

Karaoke Paradise has not had a worldwide release but we’ll keep a close eye on the film as/when it does!

Interview by Alex Minnis