Finnish American Lives (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 14, Number 4, December 1984
- pp. 89-90
- Additional Information
FILM REVIEWS Finnish American Lives P roduced and d irected by Michael Loukinen (UP North Films, Northern Michigan Univers ity , 1983), color, 46 minutes , 16mm and video cassette . Sociologist Michael Loukinen's award-winning Finnish American Lives relates the ambitions, work and interrelationships of three generations of a Finnish-American family living on a small farm in Michigan's upper peninsula. Nicely mixing old photographs of Finns at work and play in early twentieth-century Michigan with narratives of growing up in Finnish America, the film traces the slow evolution whereby Finns became Finnish Americans. It follows the grandfather (born in 1888 In Finland and emigrated to America in 1910) about as he continues to sharpen his scythe and cut the tall grass in the old way, and shows how even until his death in 1980 he remained vital and important to his children and grandchildren. The next generation works in town but resides on the family farm. The father chops wood and grows his own feed, but, all along, realizes that only his love of the outdoors and the farm repays the effort. The mother milks the cow, weaves, and cooks and bakes. She too carries on some of the old ways and tries to impress them on her daughters, with mixed success. Indeed, the two daughters want to leave the area because the work is "boring" and they see few opportunities for them there. Only the son chooses to stay. He has farming skills, some learned from his grandfather, respects the land, and, alone of the children, really works to master the Finnish language. The film shows the family in various poses, but almost invariably it shows them at some task. Finns are always busy, the film implies. In fact, the industry of this Finnish-American family probably derives as much from the need to meet their small farm obligations as from any ethnic source. 89 Like so many filmmakers now engaged in ? documentaries on ethnic America, Loukinen see sense of loss over the passing of a supposedl communal life of immigrants and to condemn th atomizing effects of modern life, even if onl implication. In his film, however, the grand desire to leave the old sod actually lends in thematic symmetry to the story, for it was th who left his parents and homeland 70 years be too once "wondered what the world is like on side." The Finnish world of the upper penins passing, as the number of aged persons in the nursing home and the youngest generation's ro language skills attest. The Finns, like so m people, are heading southward to the sun. Mo in Florida than in Michigan today. They stil saunas and social clubs, but, if work is the ethnic identity, as Loukinen suggests in his di stincti ve Fi nnishness of the grandfather an generation, forged in common experience in Iu mining, or farming in the rugged northern cou lost forever. It is for that reason that Loukinen's fi valuable. In subtle visual ways, it reminds social links and obligations that bind togeth generations. It also provides a good visual expands and illustrates the few written narra on rural immigrant America and opens a rare ? to observe the social dynamics of Finnish Ame functional nature of rural material culture, immigrant and rural life especially will bene comparing Loukinen's social vision with that documentray filmmakers working almost exclusi Immigrant" groups in urban settings. r o d u c i ? g ks to evoke a y simpler e socially y by daughters ' tegrity and e grandfather fore because he the other ula is indeed Finnish ugh Finnish any other re Finns live 1 have their cement of film, the d his mberi ng , ntry, is indeed Im is so us of the er different record that tives available ersonal window rica and the Students of fit by of those many vely with "New Randall M. Miller Saint Joseph's University 90 ...