These two programs represent the top student documentaries screened at DocPoint over the past decade. Presented with DocPoint NYC.
Petit Mal – Light Seizures by Mari Clusius
Finland, 2004, 16 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles
One day, music starts to play inside Mari’s head, but no one else can hear it. Fear soon replaces the initial fright. Is my mind ill? Am I only imagining it? The fear of not fitting in the community and anxiety about the state of her identity culminate at her brother’s wedding after years of distress. The only option is to seek professional help.
Petit Mal is an autobiographical portrayal of a peculiar illness and the feeling of otherness it causes. This documentary, which was made as a final thesis for the Radio and Television Studies programme of the Helsinki Polytechnic Stadia, raises questions about society’s approach to different individuals and about old-fashioned attitudes to “madness”.
The documentary is thoroughly its director’s work: the auteur writes, directs, edits, and performs in the film. This personal touch emphasizes Petit Mal’s small-scale approach to big questions about the relationship between the private and the public.
Seal by Miia Tervo
Finland, 2006, 8 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles
“When I went to the hospital, all my friends were at their grandmother’s or they had a cold”, states the young main character of the film The Seal laconically. When there is no one to accompany you to a hospital but a plastic toy seal clutched in your fist, you are pretty alone in the world. The Seal is an essayistic, contemplating, and immensely visual film, where the image is given room to speak. The landscapes of Lapland, the herds of reindeer, and the seemingly permanent ice function as the landscapes of the mind of the main character when she lets go with her kick sledge on the smooth snow and tells her story. What happened to the young woman in hospital is left up to the viewer, but it is something so difficult and personal that it changed the course of her life, causing her to make surprising choices: “I went to work in an orphanage in the Fiji Islands, even though I can’t prevent sex and famine. That’s the way I paid my debt to the children of the world.”
Lilli by Oliwia Tonteri Finland, 2008, 26 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles
Teenage opiate addict Lilli keeps a diary where she records her observations, feelings, and experiences. In this stylized biography, her recorderswes of falling in and out of love, partying, and messing around are transformed into a dream-like weaving. The topic of this bitteet film is a highly personal one. Oliwia Tonteri has directed the film with extreme sensitivity.
Summerchild by Iris Olsson Finland, 2008, 50 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles.
Summerchild tells the story of 11-year-old Svetlana who lives in an orphanage in Karelia, Russia, and her first visit to Finland. She spends her summer holiday at her godparents’ place as a member of their family. The film depicts her encounters with the Western excess of commodities, problems caused by a language barrier, and the godparents’ discussions about their responsibilities. Moments of joy and contradictions are both present in this insightful film.
The Dry Dock by Tuukka Hari Finland, 2002, 21 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles.
A poetic, dreamlike story describing one year at the dry dock of Suomenlinna fortress. The year of the dry dock and changes of the seasons have been shot in the time-lapse technique.
Barbeiros by Mervi JunkkonenFinland, 2002, 12 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles.
Mervi Junkkonen depicts her family as it faces a great change. The film starts with her parents deciding to give up keeping cattle. The transition of traditions from one generation to another becomes one of the film’s most important issues. Junkkonen feels guilty for not being able to continue maintaining the farm. As a young girl, she wasn’t at all interested in working on the fields, and after high school she set her sights on Helsinki. “At that time I didn’t realize that a history of hundreds of years would end with me.” Her parents are threatened by unemployment, and her mother doubts they will find new jobs. Her father is busy with his hobbies: he films with a home camcorder and takes care of his collection of old tractors. The family’s worries increase when the little sister is diagnosed with cancer. The film is set against a tender atmosphere. The coming of spring and a new beginning follow the frightening phases. Even though Mervi Junkkonen would have learned how to keep cattle, the farm’s history would probably still have ended in a few years. The laws of economics have also made their way to the cowsheds, and it takes great investments to succeed in the face of competition. But the daughter’s worry about the ending of traditions is partly unnecessary. Her father has passed on to her an important skill: making films and documents.
Durotshka by Reetta Aalto Finland, 2005, 10 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles.
Durochka is a diary-like journey to document director Reetta Aalto’s years in St. Petersburg, where she moved to at the age 19 to gain more life experiences. However, life in an artist commune in a squatted house had its downsides, and Aalto had to return to Finland accompanied by some tragic memories. This film is a way of dealing with these experiences along the journey and channeling them into a beautiful onscreen story. Although the story progresses through personally experienced emotions, it touches the viewer. The narrator is addressing a lost friend, but also exposes events and invites the viewer to witness an era in the director’s life. Experiences and emotions reach a conclusion by the end of the film.
How to Pick Berries by Elina Talvensaari Finland, 2010, 19 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles.
The cinematography of How to Pick Berries is very precise: the way of composing the lights and colors of the forest is fascinating. Among the twigs, domestic and foreign berry pickers crisscross – and life together isn’t always peachy. They take our jobs and now our berries too. Both sides are suspicious of the other.
Paradise – Three Journeys in this World by Elina Hirvonen Finland, 2007, 50 minutes, digital projection, Finnish with English subtitles.
Why would a young African rather die on his or her way to Europe than stay in Africa? Elina Hirvonen’s film takes the viewer on an unforgettable journey into illegal immigration: to Spanish tomato fields, to Morocco and Mali. This poetic, visually impressive film illuminates extremely unequal starting points. Paradise won the Student Award at IDFA, Amsterdam.
Deirdre Boyle is Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Certificate in Documentary Studies at The New School. She has taught courses in documentary for nearly 35 years at The New School as well as at Fordham University, City College and New York University among other schools. She is the author of Subject to Change: Guerrilla Television Revisited (Oxford UP), a history of Seventies’ video doc collectives and has edited seven other books and hundreds of essays on independent film and video art and documentary. She has received an ACE award for best documentary series on cable TV and has organized many exhibitions of video and film for museums, galleries, universities, and broadcasting stations around the world. Her latest writing has focused on re-enacment in documentaries of genocide and the hybrid documentary of Jia Zhang-ke. Her past students include Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country; The Oath), Linda Hattendorf (The Cats of Mirikitani), Yonghi Yang (Dear Pyongyang; Sona, The Other Myself), Chow Keung (producer/editor for Jia Zhang-ke, and Maya Mumma (associate editor of Restrepo), among many others. She gave a lecture on new documentaries for the Finnish Broadcasting Company in 1990 and was a guest lecturer at Tampere University in 1992.
Niki Bhattacharya is the Director of Operations of the MFA program in Social Documentary Film at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. Prior to joining SVA she worked on the production staff at Show of Force, a New York based non-fiction production company. Niki s an adjunct lecturer in the Television and Radio department at Brooklyn College and is involved in numerous freelance production projects.
Niki received a Bachelor of Science degree in Radio-Television and Film Communications from The University of Texas at Austin and her Master of Fine Arts degree in Television and Radio Production from Brooklyn College of The City University of New York.