A Studio in a Factory Town, documentary film showing
Date: Tuesday 19th February
Time: 10:00 am – 11:30 am (the film is approximately 60 minutes long, and there will be 30 minutes for questions afterwards)
Place: University of South Australia, City West Campus, Building H6-12 (Hawke Building)
All welcome. No need to RSVP.
A Studio in a Factory Town tells about life in the small industrial town of Varkaus, which was built around a paper mill in eastern Finland. The Jänis family filmed and photographed the town, its people and the growing industry for over a hundred years. Director Matleena Jänis, the fourth generation of the family, has put together industrial film clips and 8-mm and 16-mm film footage to illustrate a unique story about her family of photographers in the heart of the industrial town. The film pulsates with the rhythm of an enormous factory which also makes the whole town of Varkaus pulsate. It tells about the building of the Finnish welfare state, its ideals, and a way of living passed down from generation to generation, which has all come to an end. A Studio in a Factory Town is a powerful story and a personal account of the continuum of generations and the life of factory workers. It tells of a golden age, a veritable utopia.
Background to the film
Varkaus is a small town built around paper and pulp mills in the province of Northern Savonia, Finland. The golden age for the Finnish forest industry in the 1900s brought wealth to the town and the factory largely dictated people’s lives. The Ahlstrom factory looked after its workers from the cradle to the grave: Children went first to the factory’s daycare center and then to the factory’s school. Later they went to the factory’s trade school and finally ended up working at the factory. When workers retired, they moved to the factory’s nursing home where “the golden-agers look happy, spending their days surrounded by beautiful nature and good friends,” as the narrator of an old industrial film clip within this documentary tells us. Life was safe and predictable; a way of life passed down from generation to generation. Now the factory is about to be closed down and Varkaus looks desolate and depressing just like any number of other small industrial towns in Finland. The paper and pulp production have moved to countries with cheaper labor and faster growing trees.
The photographer’s studio of the Jänis family filmed and photographed the factory and the people of Varkaus throughout the 1900s. After the family closed down the studio, they were left with an archive of 500 000 photos and boxes full of 8-mm and 16-mm film clips of unique footage. Besides making industrial films, as well as filming and photographing the town, the family also documented their middle- class life. A Studio in a Factory Town chronicles the rise of Finnish industry, the building of a welfare state and the social changes in an industrial town. It’s also a very personal account. Matleena Jänis, the director and narrator of the film, is a fourth-generation photographer. In her eyes, the golden age of the past had become a utopia. In her footage we see static images of a desolate town. The rhythm of the factory used to bring images alive and dictate people’s lives in the industrial town. Looking back, however, we can now question the ideals and sacrifices of past decades.
“My grandma hoped that I would continue the family tradition and become a photographer. Now she has passed away and I’m holding a camera, ready to travel to Varkaus, my old hometown which has nothing to offer me today, and shoot it. I grew up in Varkaus in the 1970s and was taught that I lived in a welfare state where society looked after its members the way the factory owners used to do: health care, education and social welfare, among others, had become responsibilities of the state and the municipality. I remember the colorful Marimekko clothes of the 70s and the brand-new school I went to; we did a lot of teamwork assignments. The chimneys of the pulp mill could be seen everywhere in town and people would say “it’s the smell of money” when the chimneys would churn out stinky smoke. Things were great and people expected the future to be even better. They believed the economy would just keep growing and that the growth would guarantee welfare for everyone. Growing up in that community, I was taught to demand equal rights and justice and to work for a common cause, even though there was just one cause in the town: the factory. The photographers of my family helped create the chronicle of Finland’s success with their films. Nowadays this idyllic industrial town of my childhood is, however, a lost utopia; the grim reality of a dead industrial town with mass unemployment hit me in the face. Our photographer’s studio is closed; what is left from it? Will decades of hard work and building a welfare state end here? Will the life of an industrial town continue in another form? I don’t have the answers. What I know is that my values come from living in a small industrial town and I’m sure many Finns will recognize those values.” – Matleena Jänis
About the director
Matleena Jänis (born 1968) is a film director and photographer and lives in Jyväskylä, Finland. She’s a fourth-generation photographer in the Jänis family of photographers. There have been fifteen photographers in the family and they have worked in seven different towns and cities in Finland, Russia and the United States. Matleena Jänis has directed documentaries, short films and music videos and worked as a cinematographer, editor and screenwriter in a number of productions. Jänis studied film at the Arts Academy at the Turku University of Applied Sciences and has a bachelor’s degree in social and cultural anthropology from the University of Helsinki.