Sometimes a scarf is just a scarf
Susanna Helke's and Virpi Suutari's film previewed in a city stigmatised by racism
By Marjo Valtavaara
Elias Laitinen attached an anti-racist patch to his backpack immediately after outbursts of ethnic violence in a Kajaani pizzeria broke out. The bag was present when Laitinen watched an encounter between Finnish and Somali culture in Along the Road Little Child, a film by Susanna Helke and Virpi Suutari.
The preview was arranged in Kajaani to bring new points of view to the local tension. The cinema was full of Kajaani youths and there seemed to be no end to the discussion after the film was over. Most liked what they saw, especially Laitinen.
"I liked the fact that the film did not try to make a statement. This way it inspired the viewers to think for themselves."
The film also made an impression on Annu Lokka. "I see things differently now. The film broadened my mind."
Helke and Suutari are familiar to the people of Kainuu. Their previous film was about young unemployed people from Ämmänsaari.
Along the Road Little Child portrays the children of a Finnish and a Somali family playing in a Vantaa suburb.
The relations between Finns and foreigners have become strained, but none of this is shown in the film.
The story is limited to the children's interaction, which the directors consider a small miracle in the middle of a prevailing atmosphere of racial prejudice.
The children can argue about Jesus and Allah, and then continue playing normally. Something happens when children go to middle school. They form separate groups," the directors ponder.
Helke and Suutari found the children playing in the snow behind a service station.
However, it took some time to get the Muslim mother to agree to making the film, and cultural misunderstandings were an issue even after that. A special cultural interpreter was used, and the directors recommend that more of them be used in Kajaani as well.
Some of the Kajaani audience wondered whether it was a good idea to exclude adults and racism from the film.
Bigotry has been a hot topic in Kajaani throughout the autumn. The windows of a multicultural centre have been vandalised, and there has been violence in an ethnic restaurant even after a change in management.
"Things do not have to be so complicated. They can be very simple, as the film shows. With this in mind, it is good that racism was left out," stated a young woman in the audience.
Marja Lähde, the head of the city's immigrant services, agrees. In her eyes, the Somali girls' scarves were seen only as practical headgear, perfect for playing in the woods.
"Our French sponsor wondered why we do not talk about the scarves at all, and would have preferred more politically motivated content. We responded saying that such matters are not important in the children's world, and political ghettoes do not exist here like they do in France," Suutari explained.
On addition to the film preview, the filmmakers went around the schools of Kajaani. The purpose was to get as many pupils as possible to come and watch the documentary.
Along the Road Little Child has its national preview on Friday. The film received an honourable mention at the Nordisk Panorama –festival, where the directors' most well-known film, Joutilaat, won the main prize in 2001.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 17.11.2005
More on this subject:
BACKGROUND: Pizzeria brawls give city racist stigma
Previously in HS International Edition:
City of Kajaani to root out racism and prevent further outrages (10.10.2005)
Kajaani Finland´s most racist city, statistics reveal (3.8.2005)
Hooligans storm pizzeria run by immigrants in Kajaani (2.8.2005)
MARJO VALTAVAARA / Helsingin Sanomat