Aalto University: A documentary film about everyday life in care work: a double win to Susanna Helke’s film at Docpoint festival

Finland’s biggest documentary film festival DocPoint – Helsinki Documentary Film Festival, which ended last Sunday, awarded the best new documentaries of the year. The domestic documentary film competition was won by Susanna Helke’s Ruthless Times – Songs of Care (Armotonta menoa – Hoivatyön lauluja). The main prize is €5 000.

The film team included graduates and students from the Aalto University Department of Film, Television and Scenography ELO: editors Inka Lahti, Samu Kuukka and Markus Leppälä and sound designer Juuso Oksala. The film is produced by Road Movies Oy.

The musical documentary, tinged with black humour, tells the story of the state of care for the elderly in Finland: caregivers struggle to survive in an atmosphere where efficiency and profit have become core values.

The film was inspired by the crisis in elderly care in 2019 in Finland.

‘It was the impulse. I wanted to use the means of film to show a problem that is still unsolved – even though the current government has done more than previous ones’, says Susanna Helke, director and professor of documentary film at Aalto University.

The welfare state is our best competitive advantage!”

Film director Susanna Helke
The film is part of the Critical Cinema Lab’s artistic research project Images of Fitting and Rupture, funded by the Kone Foundation and the Aalto University Department of Film, television and Scenography. It explores documentary film as a reflection of social upheavals and combines theory and filmmaking. The project explores where and how, for example, the fracturing of the welfare state ethos can be seen.

‘Underlying here is the broader question of what we value. The dominance of economic discourse is prevailing. It’s about the conflict between the logic of money and the ethos of care – they never work nicely together.’

‘The welfare state is our best competitive advantage’, Helke stresses.

A universal theme
The film took the form of a musical documentary film: caregivers and pensioners also perform singing. The musical film was a new challenge for the director, for which there were few role models. She wanted to give a voice to caregivers who might not otherwise dare to talk about the problems.

‘It is possible to make abstract themes visible through art. For me, the musical film was a way to carnivalise a difficult subject, to deal with it with black humour and satire. On the other hand, the song is also empowering because the issues are so heavy’, says Helke.

Elokuvaohjaaja, professori Susanna Helke, Aalto-yliopiston elokuvataiteen ja lavastustaiteen laitos
Film director, professor Susanna Helke
The jury praised the film for its insightful directing and its deep insight into humanity. Helke considers the award a great honour. She is particularly pleased that the film’s themes – how we care for all members of society and how we share responsibility – also opened up to the international jury.

The film also won DocPoint’s audience favourite award, with a prize of 1,000 euros funded by the Documentary Guild. The competition was open to new domestic feature films from the festival. It was also the most watched film of DocPoint 2022.

‘The audience favourite award is really important in that people have accepted the film and it has generated experiences. There has been a huge amount of feedback.’

Helke felt that the film premiered in just the right place: the opening screening of the festival took place at Kansalaistori, The Citizen’s Square in Helsinki centre, since cinemas were closed due to pandemic restrictions. Despite the snowstorm Valtteri hitting the screening, the film found its audience.

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