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.
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.
Excerpts from a text by Erkko Lyytinen (translation by Anna Volmari) – Artistic director, Helsinki Documentary Film Festival 2010. Published in DocPoint´s 2010 program, page 5.