Friday, February 04, 2011

Susanna Helke: Nordic Documentary Film (a lecture)

A lecture in the series Nordic Cinema organized by the Film Society of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki (HYY) at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 4 Feb 2011.

Susanna Helke is Professor of Documentary Film at the Department of Motion Picture, Television and Production Design at the Aalto University.

A central topic was the Swede Stefan Jarl's Mods trilogy, Dom kallar oss mods [They Call Us Mods, SE 1968], Ett anständigt liv [A Decent Life, SE 1979], and Det sociala arvet [The Social Heritage, SE 1993], the remarkable follow-up project which continues until a next generation. The answers to the question of marginalization are partly surprising: many have survived, and the next generation may overcome the social inheritance. The perishing may take the undramatic form of bloating.

Documentaries on the Third World became big in the Nordic countries since the 1960s. A special focus was on the Danish writer and filmmaker Jørgen Leth, particularly his film Det perfekte menneske (The Perfect Human, DK 1967) and its follow-ups. These films are about the Western guilt about the underdeveloped world, the "burden" of welfare. Jørgen Leth breaks the boundaries of the documentary with his provocations.

The autobiographical documentary, dealing with the crisis of the ego, has become a staple of Nordic film-making since the 1990s. A young director studies his own family, uses the film as self-therapy. The political has become truly personal. In Finland, a special pioneering film was Antti Peippo's Sijainen [The Substitute, FI 1990], a vivisection of the director's own family, yet transcending the horizont of the ego.

In Sweden, Linda Vestvik directed Pappa och jag ([Dad and Me], SE 1997), where the nice parents comply to a video interrogation of their daughter, who even forces her dad to a DNA test to confirm that he really is her dad. Unwittingly, the film becomes a documentary of the loss of empathy of the film-maker. She even makes her parents beg for mercy in front of the camera.

In Finland, Anu Kuivalainen directed Orpojen joulu ([The Christmas of the Orphans], FI 1994) in search of her father. Visa Koiso-Kanttila has directed a trilogy, Isältä pojalle ([From Father to Son], FI 2004), Talvinen matka ([Winter Journey], FI 2007), and Miehen kuva ([The Image of a Man], FI 2010). In itself, Nordic fatherhood, here profoundly problematized, is a product of the Nordic welfare state.

There are also documentaries about normality and triviality, in the tradition of the photographers Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, and William Eggleston. Christian Sønderby Jensen’s debut film Side om side ([Side by Side], DK 2010) is about two ordinary neighbour families who have not talked with one other in 15 years, due to a trivial misunderstanding.

The Nordic welfare state has been based on a contract of consensus. With multiculturalism the whole spectrum of global cultures and religions has been entering the Nordic countries, especially during the last two decades. The foundation of the social contract is being broken. There is no longer a "we".

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