The story behind those eyes - Interview with Niina Brandt, the director of My Secret Forest

Lauri loves walking in the forest, listening to the songs of birds, and let his mind wander around thoughts which later become poems. The viewer can easily feel the protagonist's inner peace in the documentary film My Secret Forest. Besides observing the daily routine of a young man living with autism, the film brings into focus his complex personality, his way of thinking and creativity. We interviewed Niina Brandt, the director of the film at the 14th Verzio Film Festival, who created Lauri’s poetical vision with the help of blurry and enlarged images, sounds of the forest and fragments of his poems.


Listen to life and wait for love to arrive.

Lauri Katajainen


How did you meet with Lauri? Did you have an educational purpose in telling a story about autism?

I met Lauri in 2009 in a poetry class and right when I saw him I had a feeling there must be a story behind those eyes. He was there with Pirjo, his helper and translator (who helps him to communicate), we started to talk and later I read his writings. I was really impressed by his writing skills and by his deep themes such as love. After that I wrote an email to him with the idea of the movie and he said: “Yes, I’m really interested in making a film”. I wasn’t searching for a person, I just met him. I wanted to tell a story about Lauri, not about autism. I think this is a very good approach when talking about human rights: focus on the person, not the disability.

With the blurry pictures and sound of the nature you created Lauri’s inner world and imagination in the movie. Could you explain the process of making it?

We wanted to focus on his writings and feelings for which we chose a narrow aspect to express Lauri’s thoughts by adding colour scripts where certain colours referred to his  specific feelings. I always asked him how he feels about our choices with the camera. He really liked the small details and the blurry images because you can’t see the forest very clearly. I was really glad that after working on the film for seven years Lauri’s reaction was this to the final cut: “You have seen right into my soul”. I cried when I heard this.


photo: Adrián Zoltán

As you said, you followed his life for seven years. Could you tell about the steps that he made during this time?

We wanted to see his educational path and his life after. When we met he was living with his parents, so we wanted to follow his steps also when he moved out.

The viewer can feel Lauri’s inner peace from his poems and thoughts and also from the way he behaves. How does he reach this peacefulness in his life?

He loves the forest, he seizes any opportunity to go there. However when he can’t, it is fantastic for him to then lie in bed and think about it. As he writes: he imagines hearing the birds and the songs of the forest. It helps him to concentrate in everyday life and he really loves those tiny bird toys that you can also see in the film.

We can see that he has a deep connection with Pirjo, his helper and translator. Could you tell me about their relationship and about their special way of communication?

Lauri describes that he feels very calm and peaceful with Pirjo, it is really easy to write with her. He says that this peace extends into his hand which enables him to concentrate and write. He can write with any keyboard or anything which has letters, and then Pirjo says out loud what Lauri has typed.


After finishing the film did you have a goal to use it for educational purposes?

We started a campaign for impact in Finland in May 2017. We have been showing this film in schools and also in movie theatres all over the country. In the campaign we are involved with autism and Asperger associations and after the screenings we have human rights discussions which focus on autism especially.

Would you like to continue with this project in other European countries?

That would be our next step, if we could have some support. We would really love to travel abroad doing the same thing. As the film is about Lauri not only about autism, it could be a very good background to focus not just on this specific disability but eventually any.

Do you keep in touch with Lauri? What is he doing now?

He is participating in our campaign in Helsinki where he lives, he is coming to our screenings and discussions. I also follow his life on Facebook, he is very active there. When he meets with Pirjo, he always wants to write me about his feelings and what is he doing, I read his messages every week. In the future he would like to study but it is quite hard, because he needs support, so it would be great if he can get more help to make this possible.

In Hungary, a documentary film by Kristóf Csabai called Closed in the Icebox (Jégszekrénybe zárva, 2015), which was primarily made for educational purposes, addressed the question of autism. Using archival footage and scenes from classical movies as Rain Man and Temple Grandin, it tells the history of autism from the beginning to the present. The strength of the film lies in the personal interviews through which we can get to know an Autism association, a school and a new initiative, the YouTube channel called I’m an autist.


Anna Orosz