Friday, June 16, 2017

Lauluja utopiasta / Songs from Utopia (world premiere in the presence of Jouko Aaltonen and Sinikka Sokka)

Directors: Peter von Bagh, Jouko Aaltonen
Country: Suomi/Finland
Year: 2017
Duration: 0.57
Languages: fi
Category: Music
    Midnight Sun Film Festival, Sodankylä.
    In the presence of Sinikka Sokka and Jouko Aaltonen introduced by Timo Malmi.
    DCP with English subtitles by Tiina Kinnunen at the Big Top, 16 June 2017.

Before the film started Sinikka Sokka sang magnificently:
    "Jos rakastat" (Matti Rossi, Kaj Chydenius) – in memory of Rossi (1934–2017)
    "Ei puolikasta" / "Нет, мне ни в чем не надо половины!" (Yevgeni Yevtushenko, Kaj Chydenius) – in memory of Yevtushenko (1932–2017)
    "Oppimisen ylistys" / "Lob des Lernens" (Bertolt Brecht, Eero Ojanen)

Liina Härkönen (MSFF): "Before Peter von Bagh passed away in September of 2014, he had, up to his last days, several irons in the fire. One of his unfinished projects was a documentary about the group Agit-Prop, the brightest star of the Finnish Communist song movement. Now, von Bagh’s work has finally been completed by director Jouko Aaltonen, whose 2006 documentary, Revolution, depicted the same left-wing song movement in Finland from a wider perspective."

"Utilizing interviews conducted by von Bagh in the summer of 2014 as well as extensive archival and concert footage, the documentary takes us through Agit-Prop’s career, from its 1960’s folk roots to the politically hectic and internationally active 1970’s, the tragedies of which cast a special kind of emotional intensity to the group’s musical renditions. Later, in the 1980’s, political awareness seemed to be wasting away until being revived by the economical depression of the early 1990’s, which also spawned a whole new generation of AgitProp fans. It is almost lamentable how the songs of the ever-active group still resonate with the social issues of today."

AA: In the summer 2014 Peter von Bagh (1943– 2014) conducted the interviews that form the core of this new film about Agit-Prop, one of the finest groups in the history of the socially committed song movement. Peter was always a champion of theirs.

After Peter's death on 17 September 2014 Jouko Aaltonen, who has himself directed a documentary on the Finnish political song movement, took charge of the Agit-Prop film. He tried various alternatives and ended up editing it chronologically: the 1960s, the 1970s, the 1980s, the 1990s, and the revival in the 2010s. The result is a straight linear account, different from the multi-layered memory montages of Peter's late, mature period.

We start with events such as the Helsinki Folk Festival in 1966, and hootenanny tours. The radicalization in the 1970s is covered. The Agit-Prop became an international phenomenon in the East Berlin youth festivals. Vietnam and Chile were among the key topics. In Germany, the Agit-Prop became known as "the Communist ABBA".

The world has changed but the music of the Agit-Prop remains timeless. Justifiedly one may remark that while oppression in Chile and Vietnam was condemned, nothing was said in their songs about circumstances in the USSR and East Germany.

More than 25 years have passed since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Eastern Bloc. Perhaps a time will come when it is possible to assess soberly a song such as Bertolt Brecht's "In Praise of Dialectics" (1931). It is an anthem of a fight against oppression, about never giving up the fight. Such songs never legitimated any oppressive government. And songs such as "In Praise of Learning" were against any monolithic agitation and propaganda.

There is a classic Hanns Eisler composition to "In Praise of Dialectics", but the Agit-Prop sing the superior composition by Kaj Chydenius. Amazingly, there are also lines in Brita Polttila's Finnish translation that are wittier than the Brecht original.

Agit-Prop will be worth re-discovering for a long time to come.

In the Q&A after the screening Sinikka Sokka commented that she never liked the name of the band but learned to adapt. The 1970s for her were a period of a young person's "ehdoton sekavuus", "categorical confusion".

This screening, in memory of Peter von Bagh, was the most deeply emotional of the festival.

"Was du nicht selber weißt
Weißt du nicht.

"What you don't know yourself
You don't know."

– Bertolt Brecht: Lob des Lernens (1931)

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