Artists' Television Access

Along the Road Little Child

Saturday, January 14, 2006, 8:00 pm, $5

Along the road

This is a true-to-life documentary film about a group of Finnish and Somali children seen through their common play, about two sets of siblings who met each other in the yard of their housing estate. The children’s play reflects the realities and moralities of the adult world and in it, the small events of their own world grow big and important.

Abdi, Nasteho, and Bisharo and their family moved from Somalia to Finland in the 1990s to escape the civil war. In the woods around their estate, they met 12-year-old Julia and her younger siblings. The children play together in the vacant lots and the woods of their neighbourhood, in a safe haven between busy thoroughfares – their own territory. They spend their time in the stairways and basements, build huts in the woods out of tyres, cardboard and plastic, and argue about God and Allah.

Their religious disputes are like a mirror of war and peace in the adult world and their games reflect in miniature the confrontation between Western and Islamic civilisations. In contrast to adults and their conflicts, the children forget their disputes in an instant. They return to building their huts as if nothing had happened. Although cultures also collide in the world of children, the collisions are soon absorbed by play. Direction: Susanna Helke, Virpi Suutari,

74 min/HDCAM/35mm


Production: (Kinotar Ltd./YLE/ARTE 2005)

Cinematography: Heikki Färm

Sound design: Olli Huhtanen

Music: Iiro Ollila

Editor: Kimmo Taavila



A Word from the Directors

For over a year we had looked for main characters for a documentary about ordinary childhood in Finland through the eyes of Islamic immigrant children.
One tired day early spring, a miracle happened. We were driving through a suburb in greater Helsinki, when we saw a group of children in the snow between a gas station and a hamburger restaurant. The group was headed by a dark, skinny boy. There was a bigger blond girl next to him. Two scarf-headed girls in long skirts far too light for the early-spring breeze were trying to keep up with them together with a small boy and his two smaller sisters.
The vision was like the opening sentence of a novel, the beginning of a story. We felt like watching a scene in a movie. We drove into the gas station.
The children disappeared from sight but we found them later in the stairway of a nearby apartment building. The oldest boy, Somali Abdi, hugged us; his Finnish friend Julia fussed around and told us about a hut they were building. The smaller one of the scarf-headed girls, Bisharo, smiled at us, revealing her broken teeth. Her older sister Nasteho remained a shy observer.
The children led us to the woods behind the apartment building. We found a hut made of cardboard boxes, plastic and twigs. The children had made couches from car tires they had rolled to the hut from the gas station. Julia told us that they had had to move the hut many times because some boys from the neighboring house had smashed it. An old baby tub served as a table and they had put Santa Clause outfits into it. Bisharo and Nasteho got nervous. Their mother would get mad if she heard that her Islamic children played Father Christmas.
Based on this vision, we started shooting our film. Big, abstract ideas disappeared. The children grew into the key characters of the film and they no longer represented just the themes we had started out with.
They were ordinary children who lived in the same building and had met in the yard. War had thrown some of them across the world to a land of strange customs, snow and quiet people. Into a laconic Lutheran world.
The setting is a Finnish suburb. The wasteland between the highways and the apartment blocks is a traditional haven for children.
The children live in a neighborhood where the relationship between the Somalis and the Finns is increasingly polarized. Some Finnish fathers chased immigrant children with baseball bats during school break and threatened the teachers with bombs when they tried to intervene in the children’s racist fights. And upper-grade Somali girls fought with their Finnish peers all the time. The group of Finnish and Somali children playing together began to look like a miracle in an environment in which grown-ups behaved like they had become insane.
Looking at children is one way of looking at society. Children represent and express the moods and moralities bubbling under in the grown-up world. The way our key characters, all children, fought, made up and sought support from each other was like a society in miniature. They kept rebuilding their hut that other children and even adults smashed. Despite the fierce arguments they had within the group, they stood united to defend their territory against outsiders. Sometimes they argued intensely about Jesus and Allah and can God be a son and will a pet mouse go to hell after death.
Our film did not become a socially correct depiction of refugees or tolerance. We did not want to portray childhood as a symbol of happiness or innocence. Finnish and immigrant children are as prejudiced, tolerant, hungry for power and full of fears, hopes and survival instinct as mankind in general. Adults can try to mold and manipulate children, but a part of them will always be outside our learned structures. The freedom and anarchy inherent to childhood make it fascinating and unpredictable. Childhood is seldom a period of just happiness, but even one single precious memory from those important years can take us through a lifetime.
Evil and cruelty sell better than kindness. Nevertheless, our film tries to show what is greatest in a human being, even a little one: the ability to defend others. In the woods of a Finnish suburb, we followed a group of friends who were eventually not much affected by the religious wars of the grown-up world. Keeping the group together was more important than fighting.





Susanna Helke is a Finnish Documentary Filmmaker, Theorist and University Lecturer living and working in Helsinki, Finland.


● The films by Susanna Helke and Virpi Suutari have participated in international documentary film festivals and received several awards. The previous film The Idle Ones (2001) was nominated for the European Film Academy Arte award, and won several prizes including the Best Scandinavian Documentary Award in the Nordisk Panorama Festival, the Best Documentary Award in the Milano Festival Internazionale, and the Best Documentary Film award in the Finnish Academy Awards.


Along the Road Little Child (2005), was awarded an Honorary Mention by the Documentary Jury in Nordisk Panorama festival in the October, 2005 


● Retrospectives:
*Tampere Short Film Festival 2003.
*Hommage à Helke & Suutari Travelling 16e Festival de Cinema de Rennes France 2005.

*The Crossing Europe Film Festival in Linz, Austria April 2006


● Doctoral dissertation (Doctor of Arts Degree) in the Film Department of the University of Art and Design of Helsinki, Finland.  will be published as a book by the UIAH University Press with the title “A Trace of Nanook:   Cinematic Methods Intertwining Documentary and Fictional Styles”.


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