Kati Van Der Hoeven and Heidi Majander
It is our pleasure to be joined in The Green Room today by the wonderfully inspiring Kati Van Der Hoeven and Director Heidi Majander! Thank you both for joining us!
Thank you for this opportunity and a special thank you for the film Festival, and everything surrounding it. Both Henning and I (also my assistants) enjoyed everything about our visit to Brussels.
Firstly, I will ask questions to Kati- for those that aren’t aware please can you tell us what happened to you at the age of 21 that have shaped your daily life?
I was a model living and working in Los Angeles, California. In January 1995, a week after a shoot in the Canary Islands while visiting my family back home in Finland, I suffered a lower brain stroke (infarct). The common belief back in that time was that only people over forty could get strokes. The doctors did not understand what was happening to me, and when they realized that it was a stroke, I was already completely paralyzed. My Brain stem is severely damaged, and I suffer from a condition called; Locked-In Syndrome.
My upper brain is in perfect state. I am lucid, and I did not lose the sense of touch. My body is also in a perfect state of health. The only problem is that the messages from my brain do not go through to my muscles to make them move. The tongue is also a muscle that I cannot move, meaning that I cannot speak either. I talk with my eyes.
Heidi, you were seeking someone to aid your documentary about communication- tell us about this process and when you first connected with Kati?
First we documented a voice system project meetings with my co-producer Tapani. In the meetings various professionals told us about assistive communication and people who needed or whose close ones needed aid.
The project started because Finnish children who used a voice system to communicate did not have a childs voice, graphics and grammar programs were also outdated. We started a pro bono project with my friend whose son uses a voice system with eye control. Voice system sentences came out too often gibberish and the voice the young boy used was a man’s voice – that wasn’t right!
The other big issue was and still is lack of knowledge. Many told us that people, young and old, don’t get help and even professionals may lack information about communication aid. Kati joined in and wrote a text for the project. Kati’s insight impressed me! her text helped me comprehend many things and the importance of communication, she pointed out also the story of Bliss language trying to stop any war happening again after WWII. Bliss language is today in use as one communication aid for people with disabilities.
I asked Kati can we film she and her husband Henning communicate. Their way to communicate with air alphabet is ingenious and costs nothing, no device nor computer is needed. Henning opened their door, Kati was in their living room and her mother was there too. I knew what had happened to Kati, I could not help it and tears came out. Kati’s mother became worried, she asked had something happened to the little boy in the voice system project.
Heidi- and why were you keen to explore this subject matter?
Our goal with my co-producer was to get a documentary to Finnish National TV YLE. It is best channel for documentaries in Finland to spread information. A TV producer gave us a time frame of 27 minutes and asked who is the protagonist. We had Kati in mind and Kati said yes.
We met and talked about communication with Kati, Henning and Kati’s close ones, several times. We exchanged many emails with Kati. I wanted to give Kati a voice in the film and she, on the other hand gave a voice to children who needed a better voice system. I also sent her suggestions for film titles and got her honest opinion which ones were rubbish.
One email took me by surprise, Kati told she was going to London in Spring and invited me along! A local cinematographer Gaza helped in London. Some scenes there are filmed even with my pocket camera, since some things happened quite unexpectedly. My Co-producer and editor Tapani made great work, so we could use those clips too.
Contract matters and grants took quite a while, my husband’s support and Kati’s example made it easier to tolerate uncertainty. Meanwhile Kati surprised us again, she was going to Poland in Fall.
Heidi- Can you tell us a little bit about your process for filming and any assistance you had? Gathering archive footage etc?
Kati, Henning, Kati’s mother, father and assistants have helped us all the way. Henning was great help also with locations and sometimes operated camera.
Kati has been working a long time for various projects and with many people. Her friend Päivi is a scientist and her field is eye control. She had a clip from Kati testing eye control in Copenhagen 2005 and we got to use that clip in the documentary. Päivi also explains in the documentary why eye control is problematic. I asked my family members and neighbours to be test audience and also Kati and her close ones to watch and let us know what they think.
The documentary came out in YLE TV 1 in 2018 and is in their online service too. Over 100 000 people have seen it in Finland. I have to mention too, project started 2014 and Finnish children got child voice option in 2018 and grammar program got improved already in 2016, thanks to one Finnish company Code Q and their ceo Tapio, who got impulse from the project.
So can you both tell us what is next? I have heard talk of a new documentary….?
Kati- For us next is my autobiography which is coming out in October. It is called; “Living Underwater by Kati van der Hoeven” and it will be sold on Amazon. We will be in London to be part of the “New Scientist Live Festival.” We will be participating in one of the talks which; “How to be a superhuman” with Rowan Hooper. And, we are hoping that the book (which is made in the UK) is ready by then so we can launch it then. About the new documentary; we are done with filming, but Heidi can tell more about that.
Heidi- Yes, next documentary “Beauty And The Wheelchair” has been filmed, locations are Finland, Poland and Belgium and film is now in editing phase.
Like I told Kati invited us along Poland and off we went.
The documentary is about Kati’s journey and people she meets, companion called wheelchair and beauty in life.
Again the voice you will hear are Kati’s words, this time the voice is a voice system made for her. Voice actor Mikaela recorded her a voice system while we were making Eyes Can Tell.
Currently we go through Kati’s sentences with Kati. Kati will speak in English in the film. She has lived in States and they also communicate in English with Henning and assistants. This documentary will be more agreeable for international audience in English.
Like Kati said they do work with Henning in many ways. I believe they have a positive effect to every single one they meet. Since everyone are not lucky to meet them in person, it’s well worthwhile to explore their work and hopefully many will see these documentaries too.