This year’s festival was held on 12–16 January urging doc-lovers to head north during the coldest season to enjoy a fine choice of domestic and international productions, as well as a special programme of children’s docs that gave volume and profile to the popular festival.The new artistic director of the festival, Kristina Schulgin, replacing Arto Halonen, emphasized creativity and authored works in this year’s selection of 250 documentary features and shorts. The short format proved apt for presenting the most intriguing and creative approaches to cinema language. Apart from the New Finnish Documentaries, the programme offered a look at British and Chinese docs, thematic sections entitled Relative Landscape and Memory of History presented various international productions and the retrospectives of Chris Marker and Peter von Baghs gave focus to cinema and memory. Peter von Baghs received the Aho & Soldan Life Achievement Award. In addition, a selection of documentaries from Finnish Film Schools was screened and last, but not least, was DocPoint’s special feature: DOKKINO, a focus on documentaries for Children and Youths.
In the DocView selection of films from the Gulf of Finland area, the Russian documentaries stood out as poetic highlights. Factory is Sergei Loznitsa’s counterpart to his previous film, Landscape, which was remarkable for its long, panning shots moving from left to right round the camera axis in a merry-go-round effect depicting life in a Russian village in a winter landscape: people waiting, freezing and chatting at a bus stop. In Factory the camera has moved from cold exteriors to the burning hot interior of a steel factory. It is like a look into Hell with fires and big vats of molten steel gleaming in the dark. The static camera uses long takes to record the repetitive movements of women and men working silently as human machines at the conveyor belt and the melting furnaces. The fascinating imagery is a metaphor of the dehumanization taking place in the name of industrial progress, and the short condensed format is good at holding poetry and sustaining an atmosphere that is easily lost in longer films.
Another Russian filmmaker, Pavel Medvedev, gives a deeply personal view on what it is like to be deaf and to live in a ‘silent’ world in Wedding of Silence. He contrasts noise and voices with silence in an elaborated soundtrack – for those who hear, it is silence, for the deaf, it is a different kind of space, a space where communication takes place. The last image in the film – a huge bell made by deaf workers in a metalworking factory in St Petersburg –wonderfully connects this film to the previous one, Factory (they were shown together). In the Dark by Sergei Dvortsevoi, a moving story about a blind man and his cat, which has already won numerous awards at international festivals, was a natural choice to complete this section.
One of the most powerful cinematic experiences of the festival was delivered by UK director Daniel Gordon with the spectacular and unsettling A State of Mind. Shot in North Korea, the filmmaker and his associate producer Nicholas Bonner provide us with a rare insight into North Korean society. The filmmakers follow two Korean families whose young daughters (13 and 11 years old) have been chosen to participate in the Mass Games. Mass Games are shows in which thousands of gymnasts perform at public celebrations. The film is shot over eight months leading up to the Mass Games of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the “victory” over the South in the Korean War. A huge event honouring the North Korean dictator Kim Jung-il. The devotion and determination of the young gymnasts who long to perform for their Great Father is amazing. Sometimes they train outdoors in 20-below temperatures.
State of Mind is not a critique of a dictator state, it is a film about and with two ordinary Korean families and their daily life in a completely controlled society where you can lower the voices of propaganda coming from the radio but never turn them off. The fantastic scenes of Mass Games performances throughout the film are simply dumbfounding and having met two of the thousands of moving, coloured ‘spots’ in the stunning choreographies of human bodies making patterns, you want to watch even more and are even more amazed.