Director Selma Vilhunen Wants People to Find ‘Their Inner Hobbyhorse’ – An Interview With Finland Today

Selma Vilhunen, director. Picture: Tony Öhberg for Finland Today

A hobbyhorse is defined as a child’s toy consisting of a stick with a model of a horse’s head at one end. What material could a filmmaker possibly use to fill a documentary for 1.5 hours on this topic? This is the question I pondered when first asked to attend the preview screening of documentary Hobbyhorse Revolution, directed by Selma Vihunen. How pleasantly surprised I was when this beautiful portrayal of three teenage girls totally consumed me.

Selma Vihunen is a Finnish filmmaker whose interest emerged from a high school filmmaking club. During her career, she has made short films, documentaries and a feature film. Her critically acclaimed short film Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? received an Academy Award nomination in 2013 in the category of best short film. Selma is only the second Finn to be recognized at these awards. Her latest feature film, Tyttö nimeltä Varpu, was nominated in 12 categories at the 2017 Jussi Awards (Finland’s Oscar equivalent) winning the best actress category.

Words can’t explain how moved I was by this documentary, but I will try. The brilliant music and fantastic editing take the viewer on a truly emotional ride; what is superficially a story about the development of a new hobby within the Finnish teenage community and artfully entwines the journey of three girls through their teenage years. In Hobbyhorse Revolution, we experience their peer relationships, parental interaction and the effects of bullying. This is a story of these girls’ life raft (hobbyhorsing) keeping them afloat throughout some very rough seas. I recommend every parent taking their pre-teen to watch this film.

This is a story of these girls’ life raft (hobbyhorsing) keeping them afloat throughout some very rough seas. I recommend every parent taking their pre-teen to watch this film.

“I am a horse girl myself, horses are a theme that I have had in my previous movies as well,” Selma Vilhunen said to me, when I interviewed her for Finland Today. “One night in autumn 2012, I saw a clip on the internet from a hobbyhorse riding competition and was immediately smitten with everything I saw. I started to research and found a Finnish hobbyhorse forum, YouTube channels and blogs. It was that night that I realized a new film had entered my life.”

Selma visited competitions speaking to people involved to find subjects for the film and advertised in a Finnish horse riding magazine. “I followed more people but towards the end of the process these three started shining to me.”

When questioned as to what message she was intending to convey through her film she advised there are two. “I wanted to encourage people to find their inner hobbyhorse and to use their imagination even when they are older than 13. Another thing I find really beautiful within this phenomenon is the diversity of the people in the community and how they accept one another. I encourage people to investigate their own prejudices.”

“I wanted to encourage people to find their inner hobbyhorse and to use their imagination even when they are older than 13.”

There are currently 10,000 hobbyhorse enthusiasts in Finland and the trend is spreading throughout the Nordic countries and beyond. The hobbyhorsing community seems to be a non-judgmental, safe place for teenagers to let their guard down and be themselves.

I spoke to two of the film’s stars, Elsa and Alisa. Elsa was aged between 13 and 16 when filmed. “I like the film very much, Selma has done a great job. It was interesting to watch my progression through the film, to watch myself growing up.” Elsa and Alisa still ride the hobbyhorse but not as intensely. “I don’t need the toy anymore, I’ve found the horse in myself,” Elsa said.

The International premiere of Hobbyhorse Revolution will be held at the Visions du Réel International Film Festival in Nyon, Switzerland in April. In May, the film will have its North American premiere at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. Screenings are also to be held at festivals in Turku, Tampere, and Sweden.

Hobbyhorse Revolution premieres in cinemas March 31.

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