Before leaving for Finland, I checked out some books and music from the local library system to see if it would help me get in the frame of mind needed for such an exchange. I had a great class in high school in Ann Arbor, called “Humanities;” it was 2 hours a day and covered history, art, music and literature of the Western world. It was the most effective class I ever had in making history and culture understandable in context.
Ever since, I’ve been convinced that it helps to understand another country and the decisions its government and citizens make, whether about climate or energy or other issues, if you have some background on their culture. So I read parts or all of the following (which were available in the local system):
- Popular Music from Vittula – dark and strange IMHO but according to Paula Havaste, important and illustrative of life in Lapland
- The Year of the Hare – charming and fun
- The Kalevala – the classic Finnish origin stories and myths, like “Norse Gods and Giants,” which I read growing up because I am the granddaughter of a Norwegian immigrant. – Very beautiful, especially the children’s illustrated versions, which my son liked a lot. Wikipedia notes that ‘J.R.R. Tolkien claimed The Kalevala as one of his sources for The Silmarillion. Echoes of The Kalevala's characters, Väinämöinen in particular, can be found in Tom Bombadil of The Lord of the Rings.
- The Winter War – hard going history but REALLY helpful in understanding Finland and the Finn’s HUGE pride in their independence and struggles to get there.
And listened to a three-CD set of Sibelius’ music, which is wildly different from some more abstract composers of the period, like Stravinsky; more similar in classical style to Mahler, as the Executive Director of Heureka, Per-Edvin Persson, noted to me.
I tried to get some films too but they were unavailable. During the trip we met Markku Seppänen, a gifted historian and architect, who guided us through Rovaniemi Lapland. We talked about films at length and he sent me the following personal recommendations today:
First of all, films by Aki Kaurismäki (internationally the most famous Finnish director):
"Drifting clouds" (Kauas pilvet karkaavat); "Lights in the dusk" (Laitakaupungin valot);"The man without the past" (Mies vailla menneisyyttä). It's a kind of trilogy, but all stories are separate. He has also several other films, some are a bit tiresome to watch. Notice that also his brother Mika Kaurismäki is director (his best are "Amazon" and "I hired a contract killer").
"Letters to Father Jacob" (Postia pappi Jaakobille): A nice story about a blind priest and a former prisoner. Fine movie. Director Klaus Härö: "Mother of mine" (Äideistä parhain): about the children sent away to Sweden during wartime (80,000 Finnish children were sent abroad).
Director Klaus Härö: "Frozen land" (Paha maa): a bit rough one. "The home of dark butterflies" (Tummien perhosten koti): a good one.
"Lapland Odyssey" (Napapiirin sankarit): about young men living in Lapland. OK, funny. Filmed partly in Rovaniemi. Director: Dome Karukoski "Pearls and Pigs" (Helmiä ja sikoja): funny, warmhearted black comedy about outcast youth; "On the Road to Emmaus" (Emmauksen tiellä): really good one.
Little bit older ones, from the 70s:
"The man who couldn't say NO" (Mies, joka ei osannut sanoa EI); "The Year of the Hare" (Jäniksen vuosi).
"Black ice" (Musta jää): drama/triangle.
"Steam of Life" (Miesten vuoro). Finnish men telling true stories about tragic events of their lives; of course the only place where this is possible is sauna. Extraordinary, very fine movie.
FOR CHILDREN (probably with subtitles):
"Hayflower and Quiltshoe" (Heinähattu ja Vilttitossu); "Ricky Rapper" (Risto Räppääjä);"Pelicanman" (Pelikaanimies): award-winning;"Tommy and the Wildcat" (Poika ja ilves): about a friendship between a boy and a lynx.
"Unknown Soldier" (Tuntematon sotilas) (1955 by Edwin Laine): a b/w classic, shown at least once a year on Finnish tv (usually Independence day or Boxing day). The most realistic war movie of the 50s I've seen. Story by Väinö Linna's novel. The most famous Finnish movie in Finland, both the novel and the film are very well known and appreciated. There is also a modern version filmed 1985, which shows the men as young as they were in reality.
- Kara Page, ADKCAP, The Wild Center and ANCA