Arto Halonen: Shadow of the Holy Book

Classical documentary approach: Something is wrong, we have to tell about it, let’s go and get the facts and convey them to the world. That’s what Arto Halonen, Finnish documentary director, and journalist Kevin Frazier decides to do. With a quote from the web site of the film, this is what it is about:

”Why are some of the world’s biggest international companies translating the Ruhnama, an absurd government propaganda book from Turkmenistan, into their own languages?

The film exposes the immorality of international companies doing business with the dictatorship of oil-and-gas-rich Turkmenistan, thus helping to hide its human rights and free speech abuses – all in the name of profit and corporate greed.”

The list of greedy companies you can find on

So far, so good, the problem is that these companies (of course) in general resist to take part in the film, so a huge part of the visual narrative consists of Frazier and Halonen in and out of hotel rooms, on the phone, trying to get someone to expose their bad ethics of making profits.

It happens, not completely but the filmmakers succeed to get some people regret. As the director has asked me: how many documentaries do actually change something? Bravo for that persistence and courage.

Otherwise, in the film you see some exiled politicians tell their stories, rather predictable, and the film team has set up some interesting reconstructions and shot some footage from the country. It is indeed sometimes absurd entertainment but I dont feel it is enough to keep attention in a 90 minutes long film. Arto Halonen has made better films than this recording of a relatively unsuccesful investigative journalism.

Finland, 2007, 90 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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