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If one listens closely enough, there are stories everywhere. The creaks of a rusty swing, the rustling of a tree’s branches, the crack of a human voice in the cloak of darkness. Those melodies reach into our souls and connect us to ourselves and each other. Despite the stereotype of being reserved, it turns out that even Finns have stories to tell. That they want to tell.
And those stories are what filmmaker Juhani “Jussi” Oroza-Ahonen set out to share in his documentary, Tarinoiden Suomi or Stories From Finland debuting in Helsinki on Friday as part of the country’s centenary celebration of independence.
Over the course of almost 10 years, Oroza’s team traveled Finland, pitching a “story tent” in 18 sites and inviting folks in to share their most important, most defining story. The story that aches in one’s heart. About 600 individuals stepped into that tent and opened up.
The results are universal stories of love lost and love found, difficult and even brutal childhoods, acts of cruelty and generosity. “People didn’t come to show themselves — to be on TV,” Oroza said. “They came to be listened to.”
A story of a woman who, as a child, played with all of her brothers and sisters — even the two who had died. Another of a little boy getting burned by stealing bread from the back of the oven mixed with the glee of not getting caught.
[alert type=white ]“People didn’t come to show themselves — to be on TV,” Oroza said. “They came to be listened to.”[/alert]
Oroza, whose mother is Finnish and father is Bolivian, has spent a fair amount of time collecting stories from around the world using the story tent technique, including in Bolivia, South Africa and Kenya. This is his first long documentary, though he worked with his filmmaker brother Benjamin Oroza on other films, including the award-winning Voices from El Alto, an award-winning story tent project filmed in Bolivia. “I find that the need to talk is the same,” he said.
Many of the stories are melancholy, broken up with sepia-toned panoramas of Finland’s vast beauty as well as intimate photos shared by participants. Throughout the film, Oroza returns to shots of the Paavolan tammi, one of the oldest trees in Finland. One senses that its majestic branches embrace centuries of stories and have their own twists and turns as well.
Oroza said he focused on the apolitical, editing down the hundreds of stories to about 32 for the film. They consist of Finns who might be neighbors, distant relatives, or the person sitting next to you on the bus — not of celebrities or politicians. “I cut every minister, every president,” he said, smiling.
Instead, we hear of a first kiss at the age of 49. Three young boys confess to mistakenly starting a brush fire. A presumably homeless man explains how comfortable construction sites are for setting up camp. The adrenaline rush of killing the bad guy in a video game. A last kiss before the love of your life drifts to the next world.
The stories that didn’t make the film will also have a place in history. While they currently live on Oroza’s computer, he will eventually hand them over to the Finnish government to archive, he said.
Though the film is being released as part of Finland’s centenary, Oroza says that the stories themselves are timeless and meant to bear the soul of the people. Oroza said he hoped people who watched the movie would feel something and learn something.
Tarinoiden Suomi premieres in cinemas August 11.