Neuvonen: Reindeerspotting. Escape from Santaland

As of August 13 2010 this Finnish documentary had sold around 63.000 tickets in national cinemas. An amazing number for a documentary film about a drug addict, I thought, before watching it. How do you pitch that to friends… want to come along and see a film about Jani (the name of the protagonist), who is slowly killing himself!? And the number is still amazing, having watched it, for a film about a young guy, who is charming when he is clean, semi-charming when he has just made a shoot up, unbearable when he is stoned. Well, maybe not unbearable, but it makes him a bright guy with a limited view: when can I have the next fix is the only thought he has. I have never seen so many scenes with a needle to be stuck into a vein.

No, it is not a sensation-hunting film first time director Joonas Neuvonen has made. According to the site of the film he started to film the addicts when he came back to Rovaniemi (Northern Finland, ed.) in 2003 after living abroad for a couple of years. Some of them were his childhood friends, and at first he just wanted to document their present life without any particular plan or goal. Soon Jani became the main character that Joonas followed closely and intensively for several months. After Jani was imprisoned, the director moved abroad again taking distance to the material. In 2004 he started to go through the footage, and later that year editor Sadri Centincaya started the editing with him…

One man behind the camera, a friend, himself on drugs, this is what makes the film attractive contrary to hundreds of well meaning ”don’t do it” drug addict films. There is an intimacy in the relationship between the one who films and the one, who is being filmed. It is a relief when Jani is ready to leave fucking Finland to go abroad. This is where the film invites the viewer to experience tha classical journey of a young man, who wants to see and learn about the world. Free subutex drug in Paris, they are having a great time but when money is over, they have to go back and Jani ends up in prison, or as written, he ”is in and out” of prisons.

In terms of image, it looks (to use a Lars von Trier word about his new film) like shit and yet you take it all in, because it is a drama, well told in a persona and honestl way. That is why people go to watch it, that must be the answer.

Finland, 2010, 84 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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