In celebration of its tenth anniversary, DocPoint: Helsinki Documentary Film Festival, the largest non-fiction event in the Nordic region, has organized DocPoint NYC, a weeklong program of Finnish docs from the past decade from June 8-13, with screenings at MoMA, 92Y Tribeca, Scandinavia House, and Union Docs. In addition, Scandinavia House will host two panels: Digital Distribution on Thursday, June 9 and Doc Power on Friday, June 10.
The Helsinkini festival’s regular dates – during the second half of Sundance – have meant that I’ve never been able to attend. Unfortunately and coincidentally, the NYC event takes place the exact dates that I’m out of the country attending the Transilvania International Film Festival. Despite that, between festival appearances elsewhere and some handy screeners, I’ve been able to see quite a few of the dozens of films that are being offered up to New York audiences, many for the first time.
REINDEERSPOTTING: ESCAPE FROM SANTALAND
DocPoint NYC opens with the NYC premiere of Joonas Neuvonen’s 2010 film, which will screen for the entire week at MoMA. For my thoughts about this drug addict portrait following its stateside premiere at SXSW, click here.
PEOPLE IN WHITE
Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen have crafted a very unusual film formally – it mixes actors with real people (not revealing which is which until the end), and is deliberately and avowedly staged and scripted. Its stylization might draw some loose comparisons with Clio Barnard’s THE ARBOR, though this film is perhaps not as rigorously structured. The intriguing project, Making its US premiere, centers on psychiatric patients relating their experiences of their mental health providers – both good and traumatic – revealing something of themselves in the process, but firmly putting the focus on the doctors and the power dynamic they set up between themselves and those they’re trying to help.
THE LIVING ROOM OF THE NATION
Another formally distinctive film in DocPoint’s lineup, Jukka Kärkkäinen peeks into the lives of everyday Finns by placing a stationary camera in six ordinary living rooms. Surprisingly, his subjects show remarkable openness, discussing their fears and aspirations – about family, responsibility, mortality – turning the camera, and by extension, the viewer, into something between a therapist and a confidante. Definitely not to everyone’s taste, the film nonetheless offers a window into other people’s experiences and emotions, forming a connection that, while mediated by the filmmaking process, remains decidedly personal.
So assured that one is surprised to find out its the work of a student filmmaker, Iris Olsson’s 2007 observational film follows an eleven-year-old Russian orphan as she is taken in by a Finnish foster family for the summer. Language difficulties make the transition anything but smooth, underscoring the larger cultural and economic disparities that are at the core of this emotionally rich and satisfying film.
Sharing a similar theme, Mia Halme’s 2011 verité documentary, making its US premiere, also examines the complex relationship between children and their foster or adopted parents – in this case, children who have been taken into protective custody, away from their biological parents. Halme’s young subjects reflect a range of responses to their situation – a pair of pre-teen siblings are excited to return to live with their mother, who they’ve been separated from for more than half their lives, while their foster parents deal with the impending separation; a teenage girl, striving to better fit in with her foster family, repeatedly begs her absent, imprisoned father to allow her to adopt their last name. An intelligent and at times heartbreaking film.
FATHER TO SON
The first part of his trilogy on masculinity and manhood, Visa Koiso-Kanttila’s 2004 film functions as a personal meditation on fatherhood and fathers’ relationships with their sons. Here Koiso-Kanttila reflects not only on his feelings of insecurity regarding his young son and newborn, but also his own troubled history with his father, and reaches back further to consider his grandfather as well. Not always an easy or even pleasant film to watch, as the director unashamedly uses his filmmaking as a form of therapy to address the emotional and psychological scars of his upbringing, the project somehow still manages to work. Polite, sit down interviews with his father and grandparents give way to more spontaneous, emotional exchanges that are able to surpass psychotherapeutic overindulgence to instead lead to a credible transformative arc.
STEAM OF LIFE
The world of men is also the subject of Joonas Berghäll and Mika Hotakainen critically lauded 2010 film, which takes places entirely in a number of male-only saunas. Men of different ages, sizes, and shapes put everything on display – beyond their naked bodies (a point of vulnerability that’s still often difficult for American audiences), they, like the subjects in THE LIVING ROOM OF THE NATION, surprisingly but naturally choose to offer their deepest personal thoughts to one another in these mundane surroundings. Juxtaposed with beautiful shots of nature, the film attains an almost poetic quality, signaling that its subjects are able to find catharsis and balance through the simple act of taking a communal steam.
Continuing the theme, Erkko Lyytinen’s 2003 doc introduces us to the Bachelor’s Club – a group of eligible men in a small isolated region of Eastern Finland that, unfortunately, has a dearth of available women. Less meditative than the previous two films discussed, Lyytinen’s project boasts instead a fascinating study of male bonding of a different sort. Loud and raucous where the other two films are quiet and subdued, the young men in this film burst into collegial song at the drop of a hat, fill their time hunting and drinking, and joke about getting laid, leading up to an annual celebration that culminates in the awarding of a trophy in the shape of a naked female torso – to remind them what they’re missing. Their “boys being boys” camaraderie is refreshing and ultimately enlightening, especially as manifested in the fatherly dynamic between Mujunen and his uncle.