Boiling Point: the doc exploring Finland's far right
Finnish documentary Boiling Point is a cool-headed look at an increasingly incendiary subject: immigration. The film's director, Elina Hirvonen, tells us why she wanted to create a documentary that treats people on both sides of the debate as human beings
The world is an ugly place at the moment. Turn on your TV or fire up your Twitter feed, and sandwiched between the new series of Bake Off and cute viral cat videos you’ll find glimpses of humanity at its very worst. We saw this last month when tiki torch-carrying white supremacists marched on Charlottesville, Virginia. This side of the Atlantic we’ve seen a similar situation, with fascist groups seizing an opportunity to present themselves as defenders of white communities in the face of mass immigration. Finnish filmmaker Elina Hirvonen documents this alarming rise of the Far Right in her home nation with compelling documentary Boiling Point.
Hirvonen tells us that she’s sensed an “atmosphere of rapid polarisation” in her hometown of Helsinki since the first wave of asylum seekers from the Syrian Civil War began arriving in Finland and the rest of Europe in 2015. “I’d been following it closely because my husband works for the Red Cross here in Helsinki,” says Hirvonen, “so we’ve been getting all the phone calls,” which included an early morning wake up when a refugee shelter was petrol bombed at the beginning of 2016. “I remember waking up thinking, ‘Why is nobody making a film about this?’ and then I remembered I’m a filmmaker and said to myself, ‘why don’t I drop the project I’m researching and start making a film?’”
The result of that epiphany is Boiling Point. It’s an urgent documentary, in more ways than one. “It all started at high speed,” Hirvonen recalls. “It was January 2016 when I had the idea for the first time then it was January 2017 when it premiered – so it was the fastest ever [feature-length] documentary filmmaking production in Finland.” The speed of production (the research, filming, funding and editing were practically concurrent) was necessary because Hirvonen didn’t just want to document the rise of fear and anger in her country, she wanted the film to be an inspiration for conversation. “We hoped it could be a cue for people to continue the debate in a more constructive way.”
While the title suggests a blistering polemic, the resulting film is more tempered. Hirvonen is well-known in Finland as a left-leaning columnist and human rights activist, but she wasn’t making this film as a personal statement, at least not explicitly. “I wanted to show the different faces of what’s going on without telling people what to think about it,” says Hirvonen, “but still show everybody in the film as a complete human being.” We see anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin marching and sloganeering, and these are juxtaposed with other Finns welcoming asylum seekers. This cross-cutting of fly-on-the-wall footage gives the impression of the nation in conversation.
We complement the approach. It’s a tonic to modern discourse, which tends to involve both sides shouting each other down. The filmmaker audibly bristles down the line when we use the “s” word, however. “I don’t like the idea that there are sides,” says Hirvonen. “I’m not sure how it is in the UK, but in Finland there is this strong narrative of seeing the whole debate as a debate between two sides. It’s more complicated than that; there are many sides.” A healthier attitude, she argues, would be to engage in a more civil manner with the people with whom we disagree. “I think it is important for people to see other people who think differently from them and try to see where they’re coming from, discover what they're scared of. While it’s important to always defend human rights, at the same time it’s important to see the people arguing against certain human rights as human beings also.”
Surprisingly, this humane approach has proved controversial. “I’ve had many of my own friends from my human rights activist circles be very critical,” she admits. “Actually, they’ve been the most critical to my approach.” Hirvonen seems sanguine about this reaction, though. After all, she didn’t make this film for people who already agree with her point of view. “The debate was already very polarised when I started making the film, there was no dialogue going on, and it doesn't help anyone to have monologues in your own circles and people picking the monologues they want to hear. I wanted to make a film that would somehow break the barriers.” With Boiling Point, Hirvonen has created a film that gives you the space to think about its complex issues for yourself – that can only be a good thing.
Join in the debate yourself when Boiling Point screens at Take One Action on 16 Sep, 5.45pm, Filmhouse, Edinburgh
Take One Action runs 13-24 Sep. For full details, head to takeoneaction.org.uk