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'The Punk Syndrome' co-director and cast discuss their SXSW-winning documentary

Co-director J-P Passi and two members of Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day, the band featured in 'Punk,' talk about how their movie got started and the niche the band members feel they've found.

By Erin SchererThe Film Panel Notetaker / March 25, 2013

Attendees of the South by Southwest Conferences & Festivals, where 'The Punk Syndrome' won the SXGlobal Audience Award, wait in line for events.

Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/AP

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One-on-Three interview with J-P Passi, Sami Helle, and Toni Välitalo: The Punk Syndrome – Winner, SXGlobal Audience Award

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With:
J-P Passi, co-director, The Punk Syndrome
Sami Helle, bassist, Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day
Toni Välitalo, drummer, Pertti Kurikka’s Name Day

Erin: My first question is for J-P. What compelled you to make a movie about this band?

J-P Passi: The anarchy of the guys. We have two directors, and the other one saw them on TV on a news program. It was a news flash on the band, who were still in the very early stages of their career.

Sami Helle: Four years ago.

J-P Passi: He told me about the band and asked if I would be interested.

Erin (to Sami): How did you guys get together, and what made you want to form a band?

Sami: It was Pertti, our guitar player. He has been a punk rock freak for 30 years. Of course, we just do the music. He said, “Okay, let’s just put a band together,” then we did that. Three guys, me, Toni, Kari, then Pertti started this band, and in 2010, there was a movie called A Little Respect, a Finnish movie. That movie needed a song. So the song was in that movie, and the rest is history.

Erin: It sounds like you guys ascended very quickly.

Sami: It was quick. It came really quickly.

J-P: They have a really long history together. They were already working in that direction.

Sami: We’d known each other for a long time, and so far, so good to be together.

Erin: How do you guys come up with ideas to write songs?

Sami: It’s the other guys who write the songs.

Erin: You just play them.

Sami: Yeah, basically I have no say about the songs! (Laughs.) It’s Pertti who makes the songs. The message is [usually] what’s wrong with the world today, and about their lives.

Erin: So the music comes from the lives you lead, and your frustrations.

Sami: Yes. Pertti’s frustration, mainly. [His ideas] are about sticking it to the government, and everyday things.

Erin: Your band is made up of people who are developmentally disabled–

Sami: Mentally handicapped.

Erin: I am also developmentally disabled. Nobody really knows exactly what I have. When I was three, they thought I was autistic, but the thing was, I could read, whereas normally–

Sami: I am mildly handicapped. Mentally handicapped. And I too didn’t know for a long time what I was. They said I was mildly handicapped when I was 14. For 14 years, I didn’t know what I was. That’s the truth. When they put a label on me, “You are mentally handicapped, that’s that. That’s what you are.” But sometimes they don’t go through specifically who you are.

Erin: Growing up, I experienced a lot of frustration from my peers because at some point during the day, I would have to leave, and go to another room–

Sami: I know what you’re saying. I was taunted when I was a youngster because there was [a big group of kids who would taunt me]. I had girls who came to me and started to bully me. I went down to the principal’s office. They were like, “What’s wrong with this? I [reported] the students to the teachers and the principal. But when their parents stepped in, they were like, “Oh, our girls don’t do that!”

Erin: Even though you don’t necessarily write the songs, how much of your frustration goes into your music?

Sami: When I’m onstage, I [channel] the frustration from the girls who bullied me into the music, and all that stuff comes out. I don’t write the lyrics, but 30, 40 percent of the time, I feel the same. Toni feels the same, we all feel the same. This is our way for us to say, “Screw it!”

Erin: With the kind of music you play, do you think that being disabled puts you at an advantage? As disabled persons, you’re marginalized to begin with.

Sami: Yes.

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