Tempo – it has everything. In this silent film by Aho & Soldan, trees fall toward the camera and masses of log move efficiently toward an impressive factory landscape. Skilful workers refine the harvest of the forest to benefit the whole nation. In the end, the forest has been turned into a cubist pile of boards, ready to be shipped to various corners of the world.
Finland prospered because of wood, and she still lives from wood. The most significant illusions of our nation´s identity and our understanding of history can be found in the wide variety of images created by this film production company. We want to believe in the story about the past that become an important part of our identities. The workers in Tempo wear crisp white shirts, the timber yard girl has had her hair done. At the end, the camera drives along the imposing industrial landscapes. These images are like fireworks that make you feel good. The visual expression speaks of method, of a clear vision behind the camera. These moments reveal the building blocks of our nation´s story. The Finnish film pioneers already had a broad command of all cinematic means. They sold this idyll of our country first abroad, but soon it caught on with us, the later generations as well.
Aho & Soldan´s images speak to me, a modern day filmmaker. They open a window into the thought processes of my colleagues from 80 years ago. We have much in common, we appreciate the same techniques – images must inspire and stir the audience. Filmmaking is a craft where experimenting and endless enthusiasm create interesting films. This is always noticeable, this inspires every time.
The evolutionary belief of our age buries beneath it many eternal links in the continuum of humanity. It is fascinating to imagine how much in humans is eternal and unchanging. Documentaries reveal these basic elements of humanity from the past; we are still able to interpret the thoughts and feelings of the mute people on film. Many of our habits that have been passed on from generation to generation date back thousands of years. Yet, the short history of film also shows a huge social development. We have changed our way of thinking and acting, but at the same time withdrawn to an island of our own concept of morality, where visitors are not welcomed. The documentaries in the Fading Souls programme tell tales of people – the world that surrounds us – that we in the West find almost impossible to understand. Their being is left alien to me, what do they live for? An equal measure of scarcity can be seen when Aho & Soldan point their cameras toward Finnish poverty in the 1930s. How did we rise from the destitution shown in the documentary Savutupien mailla? Is our history a series of fortunate coincidences? The eras of Finnish class society and the division of people were long forgotten, but during the last years we have shifted toward this path again. Ideas are slow to change, it is hard to let go of the notion that Finland is a special welfare society.
“These moments reveal the building blocks of our nation´s story”.
The great narrative of Finland is built through the flow of images, created by the entire media environment, emphasizing cell phones and the Winter War as the most significant matters in the nation. Documentarists should seek to expose and relate the invisible image of humanity through other means of art. When successful, this art form will convey to both contemporaries and future generations how Finns live, experience, feel and think – the special hues of the Finnish experience.
Text: Erkko Lyytinen (translation by Anna Volmari) – Artistic director, Helsinki Documentary Film Festival 2010. Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 5.
DocPoint Helsinki Documentary Film Festival 2010 - magazine:
Tempo Silent Film Concert, Aho & Soldan and The Five Corners Quintet - 27 January 2010 at 20.00, Bio Rex - Tempo-mykkäelokuvakonsertti, Aho & Soldan ja The Five Corners Quintet - 27.1.2010 klo 20.00, Bio Rex:
The Five Corners Quintet, composed of the top names of Finnish jazz, is entering a new field: film music. As a commission work for DocPoint, they will create a jazz picture book of Finland in the 1930´s, improvised with skill and soul.
Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan, cosmopolitans with a love for their home regions, filmed an incredible amount of Finnish life. The documentaries in the Tempo concert display unique evidence of the rapid economic growth of the 30s, the spirit of solidarity that helped build a national identity, and an admiration for Bauhaus industrial aesthetics.
In contrast to the hectic joys of urban life, Aho & Soldan´s images of the countryside show unhurried coffee drinking in chimneyless “smoke cottages” and tranquil happiness that shines through in daily chores. Lapland´s lyrical landscapes and snow-topped fells are like from another, pristine world where time has frozen. In the concert, The Five Corners Quintet, which draws its inspiration from the jazz of the 60s, will boldly combine the images of the 1930s with an improvised musical landscape. Watching images from an era when forest industry was Finland´s biggest export sector may even be a slightly melancholic experience. Today nearly all the factories seen in the films have been closed.
The Five Corners Quintet, that is Jukka Eskola, Teppo Mäkynen, Antti Lötjönen, Mikael Jakobsson and Timo Lassy, became hugely popular with their debut Chasin´the Jazz Gone By. The band, which makes people dance in their club and festival gigs alike, has reinvigorated Finnish jazz and gained many new friends for the genre both in Finland and abroad.
Text by Mirkka Maikola, (translation by Anna Volmari). Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 104.
Screening of Aho & Soldan´s films at DocPoint 2010 - DocPointin Aho & Soldan - näytökset 2010:
Aho & Soldan & Co, founded by engineer Heikki Aho and photographer Björn Soldan, brought a brilliant business idea to the Finnish market: fast exposure panchromatic film, a souvenir from the Zeiss factories in Germany. “Ostwald´s Colour Theory”, named so after Heikki Aho`s teacher, professor Wilhelm Ostwald, as a guarantee of international quality standards, was another German invention they introduced in Finland. When the initial investor G.W.Roering left the company in 1932, its name was shortened to Aho & Soldan.
Aho & Soldan began with short cultural films and moved on to optical experiments in nature films. At the turn of the decade, the company was ready for feature-length documentaries. Two years of work culminated with three film, the most impressive of which was Suomen puu- ja paperiteollisuus (“Finnish wood and paper industry”). Global distribution and praising newspaper articles proved the allure of the brothers´ work. The epic documentary Suomen maatalous (“Finnish agriculture”) was followed by the fiery Raudanjalostusta Suomessa (“Iron processing in Finland”).
Aho & Soldan was undisputedly the leading producer of industrial films in the 1930s, and the cinematic shaper of the rise out of the Great Depression. Finnish film producer and director T.J.Särkkä summed up the importance of the company: “The aesthetic values of the films lay in the romanticism of machines”. In the future, documentaries would show the triumphs of a modernizing nation, focusing on developing industries and trade – and not lacking in commercial appeal.
The study of Soviet films and the legacy of Walter Ruttmann, a pioneer of avant-garde cinema, shaped the cinematic style of the brothers. Artistic development was first seen onscreen in 1933, in an experimental montage in Tempo. The company reached its full stylistic potential in different versions of the Foreign Ministry´s film Suomi kutsuu (“Finland invites”), released between 1932 and 1940.
Encouraged by a law entitling them to tax reductions, the company produced short films which shaped the entire notion of genre in Finnish documentary cinema. Their travel films combined landscapes and cultural values in a way appealing to the public. The fields and forests of the homeland, as well as ethnology, which was going through a renaissance, continued to interest filmmakers. Eino Mäkinen, the grand old man of ethnological film, made his reputation at Aho & Soldan. The scope of films was further expanded by commissioned pieces and organizational films.
“Documentaries would show the triumphs of a modernizing nation”
At the approach of the Winter War in 1939, themes uniting the nation became topical. Both Heikki Aho and Björn Soldan took part in the war effort. Aho edited war footage in Stockholm for international distribution, while Soldan was involved in many wartime newsreels and short documentaries as a cameraman. In 1943, during the so-called Continuation War, he was involved in starting the Finlandia-katsaus which continued 20 years into peacetime.
After the war, Aho & Soldan´s filming activities slowed down, but were not entirely discontinued. Björn Soldan moved to London. Heikki Aho was supported by his daughter Claire. Her input was significant during the early stages of colour cinema when few cinematographers had knowledge of the new technique.
Text by Ilkka Kippola, Researcher at the National Audiovisual Archive and Jari Sedergren, Doctor of Political Science, Researcher at the National Audiovisual Archive, member of DocPoint Board. Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 97.
Aho & Soldan brought Finnish documentary cinema to the highest standard. Their strongest field was industrial cinema where they stood international comparison.
The rarely seen Outokumpu and Raudanjalostusta Suomessa illustrate the visual quality the company´s success was based on. Similar examples can be found in other genres as well. Atlas, filmed at the Suomen Trikoo textile factories in Tampere, I s a commercial film, whereas Kaakko-Junnon parannustaikoja is a pioneering ethnological film by Eino Mäkinen. I.S.K. 40 v. riemujuhlanäyttely Pieksämäellä, a film commissioned by an agricultural fair, is an early sound film crowned with a performance of a choir of milkmaids. The array of 1930s short films culminates with Auvo Mustonen´s camerawork chronicling young scouts´ wintery fun in the organizational film Partiointia pakkasessa.
Text by Jari Sedergren, National Audiovisual Archive (translation by Maria Koistinen). Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 98.
Claire Aho´s first camera appearance was in the 1930s when she was captured on film by her father Heikki Aho and uncle Björn Soldan. She stepped behind the camera in 1949. A year later, Heikki proudly filmed his daughter´s camera work.
The film Laulu meren kaupungista, made for the City of Helsinki, was the assistant cinematographer´s initiation into the world of black and white films. Claire Aho filmed the full-length colour film Suomi-värien maa for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs to advertise the Helsinki Olympic Games. Claire´s camera also came into its own in the filming of the 1952 Olympic Games. Leirikirje recorded the patriotic life of girl scouts at summer camp. Jean Sibelius kodissaan completes an arc in Aho & Soldan´s productions that started with their Sibelius film of the 1920s. Claire Aho filmed the landscape of Ainola to commemorate the master composer, who died in 1957.
Text by Jari Sedergren, National Audiovisual Archive (translation by Anna Volmari). Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 99.
Heikki Aho was hired just before the Winter War to gather Finnish films for international distribution. He compiled the Finnish propaganda film Finland försvarar Nordens frihet. Finns were allowed to use the cutting room of Svensk Filmindustri even after the war. At the onset of the Continuation War, Aho and Björn Soldan were called to record President Ryti´s declaration of war. The State Information bureau filmed the mood and first days of the Continuation War in the short propaganda film Sireenien kukkiessa.
Elämä alkaa taas Karjalassa was Aho & Soldan´s most important contribution to the armed forces´review of the Continuation War, documenting the return of East Karelia. After the war, Aho & Soldan were the first to film the desolate landscape of Lapland under reconstruction. In contrast to these bleak conditions, the company also filmed cheerful post-war May Day celebrations in Helsinki.
Text by Jari Sedergren, National Audiovisual Archive (translation by Anna Volmari). Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 100.