HobbyHorse Revolution: An Interview with Selma Vilhunen

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Directed by Selma Vilhunen / Produced by Venla Hellstedt & Elli Toivoniemi for Tuffi Films / Country: Finland / Language: Finnish

Tampere Film Festival (World Premiere) Risto Jarva Prize & Grand Prix (over thirty minutes) / Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival (North American Premiere)

Playing with hobbyhorses is a traditional children’s game, but in Finland teenage girls have brought this to a whole new level. In regular jumping, the horse makes the leap. Hobbyhorse enthusiasts rely on their own legs to vault themselves and their toy mounts over obstacles that can be well over three feet high. As a concept, hobbyhorsing is not different from other fantasy sports; some people play Quidditch, others swim while wearing mermaid tails and others manage fantasy football teams. But hobbyhorsing is a real sport made by a community characterised by defiance, gentleness and a positive weirdness. Hobbyhorse girls try to provide a safe space while speaking out against bullying, protecting those who still like to play make-believe. HobbyHorse Revolution is a joyful and adventurous film that explores this new sport, ‘hobbyhorsing’. HobbyHorse Revolution spends three years with three girls in the community, who prove that this is more than a hobby and rather a way to make it through their teenage years with support, passion, and a group of friends. The subculture movement currently has more than 10,000 followers in Sweden and 5,000 in Sweden, and with current news coverage around the globe, a ‘HobbyHorse Revolution’ may be happening.

Selma Vilhunen

How did you discover the hobbyhorse community?

I came across it in the autumn of 2012 when my friend sent me a link to a newspaper article about a hobbyhorse competition that had taken place in Finland. I was curious about what was going on and was immediately smitten by it; I wanted to learn more right away. I found the Finnish hobbyhorse forum which was full of threads and had many conversations about hobbyhorsing. I also found different YouTube videos of different hobbyhorse stables and I was so impressed by the quality and fresh style of these videos. It felt quite rare to discover something like this and I liked the feeling of being puzzled by what I saw. I knew at that moment that a new film had entered my life.

The hobbyhorse community has been described as a ‘secret society’. Were they open to being filmed?

There was hesitation. At first, I tried to discuss with them what kind of film they’d like to see made about their hobby. At the same time, I tried to find people who would come out and were open to being filmed, but not many wanted that. Gradually, people did start to come out and it got to the point where there were so many people who wanted to be filmed and they were disappointed they didn’t fit in with the characters I had selected. People do prefer to be anonymous, and this took a long time to find our three characters.

What surprised you about hobbyhorsing?

I always felt like I’d learn something new whenever I’d film them. The characters in the documentary always proved to be more versatile and unique. Gradually, I began to understand the vastness of the hobby. For example, they have a hobbyhorse association with a government and a chairman. It was so charming. They organise the championships together and it’s very democratic in the way: they discuss every detail together, which is a long process but everyone has their voice heard. Once the championship is done, they immediately start planning for the next year. I really admired their patience in the way they organised everything.

Watching the championships in the documentary does make hobbyhorsing look very much like a sport. Would you agree?

The best hobbyhorsers are very athletic, but I didn’t want to film the best hobbyhorsers. The whole point of the documentary is that you don’t have to be athletic to be into hobbyhorsing. That said, the level of the performers is getting better every year. There are new talents arriving and even the original hobbyhorsers are rolling their eyes like ‘oh, the young people of today!’ I would say it’s close to gymnastics and dancing in some regard.

HobbyHorse Revolution seems to focus more on the fact that these girls use hobbyhorsing to get through the pains of being a teenager.

They have managed to create a stage for themselves where they can be who they really are. The community is a place where they handle their issues and discuss everything through the eyes of their hobby. They share their problems and support one another. Even if they do just focus on the hobby itself there’s still some space for them to focus on them being positive and developing and supporting one another in. •

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.