© 2009 Fanni Niemi-Junkola. All rights reserved.

Camera focuses and moves around shooting a trotting horse. It is a horse race in winter: the sheer speed, the cruel breeze and the horse's hoofs working a smooth and strong continuous movement. An impressive, even dangerous continuum, inevitably drawing one to itself. Sight adapts, focuses, and finally gets a grip of the action, giving us the chance to participate in it.

This particular race is a part of a larger work as well as it is an independent piece. The larger whole is a portrait of Jalmari Svart, a professional horseman from a Romany background. Time, place and profession turned to a lifestyle come together in Svart - the horseman's story: three generations, whose lives are built on and bound to horses and racing. The grandfather, the son and daughter; stables, horseman's skills, races and preparations for them.

The leading role has been given to the Svart's everyday life, its inner rhythm delicately captured by the camera. Still the life hasn't been simply documented: Fanni Niemi-Junkola has met the strange and unknown lifestyle and portrayed it not by force or by twisting the facts, but by building the story a step at a time, participating in the family's life on its terms.

The result is a beautiful description of a family working with horses. The film maintains a spirit of calmness and good will. It calls out for the viewer, makes a gentle demand to take one's seat, wait and then take part in the carefully considered and performed rhythm, both intensive and touching.

Yet the peacefulness and closeness portrayed are just one layer in the story. The harmony of the short film seems very simple, but it manages to conceal the many negotiations and compromises required to reach it. One can sense a diverse field of possible conflicts lurking in the background, avoided only by very gentle and time consuming manoeuvres of meetings, getting closer, checking or even changing the viewpoint.

It is obvious that the strength of the film comes from these meetings, and the way they are reciprocally handled. This work has been developed through a process and it is controlled by its content, Fanni Niemi-Junkola's ability to focus on the essential and let the everyday life of the Svart family take the lead. It is the horses that are the centre of this particular everyday: they are the common matter, the open door for both the artist and the subject to go through. It is a door that gives a chance to find and deepen the interaction between the two. Niemi-Junkola has put her trust to the strength of the horse-affected everyday life and chosen a slower pace of storytelling, which is somewhat unusual for her, but at the same time the firm foundation of the film.

What about the politics? The political dimension is a substantial part of the film. But as with meetings on a personal level, the political dimension of the film is crystallised only through background knowledge. Niemi-Junkola's choice is full of respect for individual experience. She portrays the otherness and being different in the Finnish society, but doesn't make it obvious and easy to be seen. Instead of simplifying things she offers a story with multiple levels, a story whose spontaneous calmness takes away all stereotypes and simple assumptions. It is not a work of politics, but of questioning and making the themes vulnerable and subject to change; thus political.

Fanni Niemi-Junkola neither tries to be different nor does she shy away from it. She is very curious and eager to get closer to the otherness we know exists and is a part of the Finnish society, but rarely surfaces and becomes clear. In this case it is the Romany culture, so near and far for many of us - like a group of hazy pictures without clear content.

Fanni Niemi-Junkola approaches the otherness with a double gesture. She is reaching out to the Romany family as well as to the viewer. It is not an offer of a nice and romaticised otherness, but of the everyday normalities, sufficient in themselves. It is powerful enough as well as necessary a gesture. It is the reality that demands one to stop at the comparative and interactive questions of who we are, where we come from and how we face the challenges and possibilities of our everyday lives.

Mika Hannula,
Helsinki 8/03
Translation: Teemu Lakaniemi