Finnish dance films deliver a strong festival year in 2020 despite the pandemic

Anni Leino / Emma Vainio, 18.5.2021

Thomas Freundlich and Valtteri Raekallio's films Fram and Cold Storage were among the most widely screened Finnish short films at festivals worldwide in 2020. The documentary Fram reached the shared #1 spot in the number of festival screenings for Finnish documentary films.

Fram depicts both the actual journey to Svalbard and the dream-like, imagined journey told through the medium of movement

Fram depicts both the actual journey to Svalbard and the dream-like, imagined journey told through the medium of movement

Thomas Freundlich and Valtteri Raekallio’s Fram (2019) is a dance film and documentary that probes the similarities between polar exploration and artistic practice. With 17 international festival selections in 2020, it leads the list of festival selections for Finnish documentary films together with Jenni Kivistö and Jussi Rastas‘ documentary Colombia in My Arms (Filmimaa Oy 2020). The dance short film Cold Storage (2016) screened at 34 international festivals, making it the year’s second most widely screened Finnish short film of any genre. Both films are produced by Lumikinos Production Oy.

Thomas Freundlich states that the film festival scene has undergone massive disruption over the last year, as events have been cancelled, delayed or moved online. “It has been great to see that despite the challenges of the corona year, Finnish films have been able to maintain a strong presence on the international festival circuit, both through independent distribution and the efforts of the Finnish Film Foundation.”

Dance art explorers

Finnish Dance in Focus, a magazine produced by Dance Info Finland, published an article about Fram in the latest issue 2020-2021:

What drives humans to explore the unknown or make art, and when it comes down to it, are they really just two sides of the same coin? Thomas Freundlich and Valtteri Raekallio’s dance film Fram, combines an art film with documentary style. The essay-type piece juxtaposes making art and exploration, taking the viewer to both extremes amidst the breath-taking scenery of Svalbard.

The first trip really left us with a burning desire to return

“Art always comes from somewhere at the very edge of human potential. Risk management forms a key part of professional skill, and it is this element that allows us all to find those edges safely. The most wonderful moments in doing what we do are, without a doubt, when we share experiences first with dear friends, and ultimately with an audience,” Valtteri Raekallio muses.

Preparing for the journey to the extremes

The pair’s plan to travel to the Arctic Ocean to shoot a film, just the two of them, is portrayed in the film as a grandiose, even absurd idea. But this is not Freundlich and Raekallio’s first visit to Svalbard; their first piece shot there was the 2010 dance film North Horizon. “The first trip really left us with a burning desire to return. We’re a lot more experienced now – both as hikers and as film makers – which meant we were able to prepare for everything that bit better,” explains Thomas Freundlich.

Shooting practice sessions to prepare for potential polar bear encounters, careful planning of rations for hiking, and packing a well-thought-out selection of props were all key parts of the preparations required to make this film – not to mention planning the choreography itself.

The artists’ backpacks had to accommodate not just their on-screen costumes, but also the equipment necessary for the extreme conditions of Svalbard and their camera kit.

Exploration & Art

As a cinematic essay, Fram depicts both the actual journey to Svalbard and the dream-like, imagined journey told through the medium of movement. The stories of 20th century explorers Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen run through the film, intertwined with the travelogue of the 21st century artist duo.

It’s important that art challenges both the viewer and the creator

Exploration and making art are depicted as similar constant efforts, striving onwards, towards the unknown. The topic has been one of great interest to Freundlich and Raekallio for many years. Both consider it important that art challenges both the viewer and the creator.

Friendship & adventure

“Sometimes, it’s difficult to determine whether ideas for pieces come from a sense of professional ambition or from our need to explore and spend time together,” Raekallio explains. “Friendship creates the framework, within which it’s like we’re having a kind of perpetual planning meeting, despite our best efforts to stop talking about work – the ideas start sprouting and some blossom into something more,” Freundlich continues.

This friendship can be seen in Fram as a sense of directness and humour between the friends. It is also the driving force behind the project.

The film pulls the viewer right to the heart of the artistic process taking place in these extreme conditions, amidst the fierce stormy weather that turns plans on their head. Raekallio and Freundlich are stuck in their tent for several days, unable to do anything other than wait for the storm to abate. Time becomes elastic, stretching out in the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness. The gale outside means that going out is no longer an option.

The storm is a turning point, where the film that began as a travelogue shifts gradually, finding its own path as a dance film. A mysterious, wandering woman appears in dreamlike sequences. The pressing need to move onwards and upwards is a constant, pestering presence, like a Golem-esque figure perched on your chest…

Fram is directed by Thomas Freundlich and Valtteri Raekallio, and co-produced by dance company Raekallio Corp., with additional support from the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation. In 2020, Fram was screened at 20 festivals, of which three took place in Finland.

The festival distribution of Fram in 2019–2020 as well as the distribution of Cold Storage since 2017 were carried out by Lumikinos Production Oy in collaboration with the German agency aug&ohr medien. The international distribution of the films was part of Lumikinos Production Oy’s cultural export project that was supported by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture.