NEWS ANALYSIS: Kenyan boy choir sings Finlandia
The idea of shooting a Mannerheim movie in Kenya was of Estonian origin, writes movie critic Veli-Pekka Lehtonen
By Veli-Pekka Lehtonen
In the new film about Marshal Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim that was shot in May this year in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, the director of the film as well as all of the actors were Kenyan. The film was produced by the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE).
According to the information gathered by Helsingin Sanomat, the original director of the film Marshal of Finland was replaced by Kenyan Gilbert Lukalia just 12 hours prior to the beginning of shooting last spring.
Helsingin Sanomat phoned the Mannerheim director in Nairobi on Wednesday.
”Look, Sir, unfortunately I have received e-mail instructions from the producer (YLE), saying that I am not allowed to comment on this now”, Lukalia said over the phone.
Lukalia was not willing to speak about his previous jobs, either. He has produced theatre performances, done some acting, and directed a couple of movies.
Helsingin Sanomat reported yesterday that the main role in the film Marshal of Finland is played by Kenyan Telley Savalas Otieno.
Helsingin Sanomat has learned from YLE sources that the budget of the film Marshal of Finland was just slightly over EUR 20,000.
Finnish film finance experts say that the costs sound curiously low. In addition, a six-part documentary series entitled Operaatio Mannerheim (”Operation Mannerheim”) was produced side-by-side with the movie. The purpose of the documentary is to shed light on the movie project.
In addition to the film Marshal of Finland, Kenya has been the scene for other Finnish films, too. But not for cost-cutting reasons.
”It is not less expensive to shoot a film in Kenya than anywhere else. Particularly if one takes into account that one has to travel there first. It is not true that when we go to a developing country, the costs would be only one-fifth of normal costs”, says actor-producer Ville Myllyrinne.
Myllyrinne has been involved in the production of the Finnish film Stars of Africa, which was shot in Kenya.
The film will be completed next year, and it is a drama depicting two Finnish women travelling to Kenya.
Nollywood in Nigeria has often been regarded as the centre of the African movie industry.
However, Kenya also has its own burgeoning movie factory called Riverwood. It is located near Nairobi.
International movies are also made in Riverwood, and Myllyrinne believes that one of the reasons for the fact is the beautiful natural surroundings.
In addition, all required facilities are available there as well as attractions including safaris.
The long distance may increase costs and cause difficulties. Myllyrinne also says that in Kenya film shooting locations are subject to various taxes.
According to the information gathered by Helsingin Sanomat, attempts were made to carry some vintage weapons from Finland to Kenya to be used on the set of the film, but the tight Kenyan legislation prevented the import of any weapons into the country.
Helsingin Sanomat has also learned that YLE’s Mannerheim movie contains a scene in which a Kenyan boy choir sings the Finlandia Hymn composed by Jean Sibelius.
The idea of shooting a film with a Finnish theme far away in Africa was not just of Finnish origin.
In addition to the Finnish producer Erkko Lyytinen, the Estonian film maker Ken Saan has acted as the second producer.
Ken Saan knows the Kenyan movie industry to some extent. He has been involved in the production of a remake of the Estonian classic film Spring, which Arvo Kruusement directed in 1969.
Saan planned to shoot cheap remakes of several Estonian classic films, as they were believed to be in great demand in Eastern Africa.
However, the plan did not materialise. In fact, the Kenyan version of the Estonian film Spring was never completed. Instead, a documentary depicting the making of the movie has been put together.
Saan says today that the documentary and the shooting process were in fact more important than the outcome.
In the same way, a six-part documentary depicting the shooting of the film Marshal of Finland was also made.
When asked whether he was the father of YLE’s Mannerheim movie, the Estonian producer was unwilling to reply, as YLE was schelued to release news about the matter on Thursday.
The film, as yet unseen, has prompted a good deal of controversy among traditionalists, who question the tampering with an iconic figure such as Mannerheim.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 16.8.2012
Previously in HS International Edition:
Mannerheim played by Kenyan actor in YLE film sparking controversy well before premiere (14.8.2012)
COMMENT: YLE tries to unmask a myth (14.8.2012)
Finnish Film Foundation