Finnish Documentary Film Festival Coming Soon
By Tara Kyle
MANHATTAN — New Yorkers will get a peek at how the world looks above the Arctic Circle when a Finnish documentary film festival opens on Wednesday.
DocPoint NYC, running through June 13 at locations including the Museum of Modern Art, Scandinavia House and 92YTribeca, celebrates the country's accomplishments in the world of narrative nonfiction.
"The style is very rich — there are a lot of filmmakers doing very visual documentaries, some do handheld," DocPoint Helsinki founder Arto Halonen said of the film slate, culled from a decade of films screened in Finland. "There's not only one way in our culture."
Opening night film "Reindeerspotting: Escape from Santaland" tackles the devastating impact of drug abuse on Lapland teens. The memories of Finnish seniors shipped to Sweden as kids during World War II frame the focus of "War Children."
Other documentaries cast a Finnish eye on crises further flung. Halonen's own film, "Shadow of the Holy Book," dives into the wacky, scary world of Turkmenistan's dictatorship.
The film slate reveals some characteristics common within Finnish cinema. Plots centered on underdogs, or marginal ways of living, are popular, according to "Reindeerspotting" producer Oskari Huttu.
The pacing is often less frenetic than much of Hollywood's output.
"We are more like the Russian style of film — we like slow scenes," said director Jukka Karkkainen, whose short film "Living Room of the Nation" examines the home lives of Finnish people.
An emphasis on cinematography and careful composition is also a staple.
"We believe in the power of the picture, and the power of sound," said "War Children" director Erja Dammert.
Finland has a long tradition of a healthy documentary film scene, thanks to a supportive state-run broadcasting system, filmmakers said.
While directors in many parts of Europe must fit their documentaries to specific lengths designed to accommodate television program schedules and commercial breaks (52 or 24 minutes, for example), the Finnish system has traditionally afforded greater freedom — as well as ample financing.
That's unfortunately changing now, according to Dammert and Huttu, with new restrictions in place and funding in decline from both the national broadcasting network and film foundation.
Even with those new worries looming, DocPoint's filmmakers said they look forward to showing offer the cinematic achievements of their country, only 5 million residents strong.
"If someone has the impression of Finland as only the land of Santa Claus, these films will of course change that," said Huttu.
DocPoint NYC runs June 8 through June 13 at MoMA, Scandinavia House, 92YTribeca and UnionDocs in Brooklyn.