Directed by Elina Hirvonen / Produced by Sami Jahnukainen & Timo Vierimaa for Mouka Filmi / Country: Finland / Language: Finnish

DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival (World Premiere) /  Prague One World Human Rights Film Festival (International Premiere) / CPH:DOX Tampere Film Festival (Winner of the Church Media Foundation Award for the Best Director) / San Sebastian Human Rights Film Festival

Insults and slogans fly from one side to another. “No savages in Finland!” “Racists out!” And between these hateful protests, serene and peaceful shots of Finnish lakes, forests and towns shot from the air put these comments into perspective. In the age of controversy, Boiling Point shows all sides from a humanistic approach. We meet representatives of everybody: immigrants, nationalist Suomen Sisu activists, and a teacher who teaches Finnish to the refugees. We visit refugee reception centres, The Night of the Homeless, and Nordic resistance rallies. Director Elina Hirvonen challenges prejudices and depicts the protesters as human, with their own individual struggles and concerns. Boiling Point is designed as a conversation starter to be watched with other people and the film currently has over 600 free screenings planned across Finland, allowing people to engage in conversation afterwards. The documentary is a fresh take on the immigration debate; taking away bias and presenting the concerns of all Finns, no matter their race.

Elina Hirvonen

Why did you decide to make a documentary about the protests that have been happening in Finland?

Back in the 1990’s, when the first Somali refugees were arriving in Finland, I was a punk teenager and my brother was a bonehead. I remember the endless debates in the living room between my views and those of my brother and his friends, who were young boys feeling angry and lost, and for some reason targeted their anger and frustration towards refugees. In 2015, I felt we were experiencing the same debates again, but this time it was not in our living room but everywhere in Finland, Europe, the United States, and it was not just young men but also some powerful politicians targeting their hatred towards refugees. I wanted to use the power of film to show people outside stereotypes as complex, vulnerable human beings. I wanted to explore, from the Finnish perspective, the rise of fear and hatred and the rapidly changing atmosphere in many western countries.

The documentary feels as though there were regular protests occurring in Finland. How long did you spend filming?

We felt that the theme of the film, the rise of xenophobic fear and hatred, is important to both Finland and other countries right now. We made the decision to make the film faster than feature-length documentaries normally made so that it would be a relevant portrayal of our time. The whole production, from the first time we talked about the theme and topic with the producers over a glass of beer, until the premiere at the Doc Point Film Festival in Helsinki in January, took exactly one year. For that to be possible, everyone in the team had to work exceptionally hard.

What surprised you the most about following these protests?

Even though I knew what to expect, I was surprised by the depth of hatred, fear and aggression I saw when making the film. rtfdtnhIn many towns we visited, we met a lot of people who felt completely abandoned and left out by society. At the same time, I was surprised by the many ways ordinary people decided to volunteer to help the asylum seekers, and the courage and sense of humour, especially in young coloured Finns, used to combat racism. I don’t think there were two sides to the protests, just many different groups of people trying to find their place in a weird, rapidly changing time.

Did your personal view or opinion on immigration in Finland change during the making of the documentary?

My view on immigration did not change. Before and after making the film, I’m convinced that all political decisions should be based on a strong respect for human rights, and that we should not abandon that principle when it comes to immigration, and especially asylum seekers and refugees, who are already feeling vulnerable. What did change, however, was my view of people who demand to close the borders. Now I feel I have a better understanding of the different thoughts, fears, hopes and ideologies of those people. Also, I believe even more now than before, that dialogue and trying to understand each other is the only way to move forward.

One of my favourite elements of Boiling Point was how in between the scenes of protests you have two men in a sauna talking about the issues concerning immigration. Why did you want to add this element in?

Oula and Tapsa, the sauna buddies, are a very important part of the film on both a concrete and metaphoric level. In Finland, the sauna is the place where people from different backgrounds leave their clothes and titles and enjoy the heat together. Also, in history, most of our political debates have been solved by men going to the sauna together. Oula and Tapsa are real life friends who go to the same public sauna in Helsinki every Friday, and the debate they have in the film started well before we started filming them, and is likely still going on. Their decision to have a debate in a polite manner and maintain respect for one another despite their differences was very impressive in an atmosphere of hatred and stereotypes.

When creating a documentary with strong points of view, how much do you have to limit yourself from creating a bias?

My background is in human rights activism, and in autumn 2015 I was part of a group organising a big demonstration in Helsinki as part of the European Day of Action for Refugees. However, I wanted to make a film that people can watch from different backgrounds, not just my circle of people. During the process, my main principles were that every main character was a complex human being, not a stereotype and that the film was open to interpretation.

What do you hope audiences will take from this documentary?

It was very important for me to tell the film in a way that it would not tell the audience what to think, but give them space to reflect. These changes are not just happening in Finland but throughout Europe, where populist movements are gaining power in the atmosphere of fear. I hope the film can be a starting point for conversations and discussions that, hopefully, lead to a better understanding of the many faces of these changes.

You are currently campaigning for free screenings of the film around Finland with discussion events after. What is the purpose of this campaign?

The reason I started making the film was the feeling that we are living in a time with fears being turned into hatred, and the active spreading of hatred can turn into violence. I had a strong feeling, not only as a film-maker but as a citizen, that we need to find new ways to defend human rights, democracy and dialogue. The campaign is one attempt to reply that need. We wanted to use the power of film as inspiration for dialogue, and that was why it was important to distribute it around Finland for free so that people from different backgrounds could watch it easily together.

What has the reaction been to this campaign?

There are more than 650 free Boiling Point screenings booked, mostly in Finland. People in different parts of Finland from different backgrounds are really embracing the opportunity to use Boiling Point as an inspiration for discussions. The feedback from the audience and organisers of the screenings has been very positive. We are collecting feedback through a questionnaire, and 89% of those who have replied say that the discussion has brought new perspectives, and more than 50% say that as result of the discussion the participants understanding of people who disagree with themselves, has grown. •

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.