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Zavtra – Tomorrow

A documentary film about the benefactors of the border district, directed by Ari Matikainen and Markku Heikkinen.

Zavtra is a strong and honest film about Finns and Russians. It is a journey along the routes of aid parcels made of black plastic, in the company of benefactors of grass roots level. The film winds in a natural way from poetic, essayistic narration to bitter realism, without losing at any point the gentleness of expression. The setting is an area with one of the world’s widest gaps in the standard of living – the border district between Finland and Russia. The film has been shot during four years in the towns of Imatra and Svetogorsk, only six kilometres apart – but were is the borderline finally drawn?

Ari Matikainen and Markku Heikkinen, who both grew up near the Eastern border of Finland, started to work with the documentary film Zavtra – Tomorrow already in the last millennium. They got exited about the Imatra area after being given a hint by Topi Uosukainen, whom they had met while working with something else. – I went to school in Uimaharju, North Karelia, and Markku comes from Kajaani which is another paper industry town near the Russian border. As a child, I was aware how near Russia was, but it wasn’t something one would talk about. The whole country was sort of a black hole, Ari Matikainen says.

For the young Markku Heikkinen, The Soviet Union was more familiar. – We lived the times of president Kekkonen and the town of Kostamus on the other side of the border offered a significant amount of jobs in the 70s. For some strange reason my interest awoke already then, I studied Russian at school and attended all kinds of cultural exchange trips and mir-drusba festivals in Russia.

The families of both men have their roots in Karelia. Already the first trip to the area of Imatra and Svetogorsk convinced the documentary directors. – The borderline itself is interesting. And when we went there, we understood that we had found a great place and a world of its own.

At first, the directors where fascinated about the visual uniqueness of the border district. But as the project was extended to last four years, because of international co-production arrangements, Ari and Markku finally realized at the editing table that their great shots depicting the roughness of the border where superficial. The real borders dwell inside us people.

The main characters of Zavtra are Senja, a young woman adopted to Finland from a Russian children’s home, and a paper industry worker Tatu Savolainen and his Russian wife Arletta. As well in Zavtra as also in Imatra and Svetogorsk, the collision of cultures is part of everyday life. – Tatu, Arletta and Senja live all the time on both sides of the borderline and have to explore what is on the other side, Markku Heikkinen says. In the end Zavtra is about who we Finns are. – What disturbs us is that we are rather close to the Russians but we don’t like to say that aloud. Definitely rather East than West, that is how I feel, as someone who has been born in Kainuu and is second generation Karelian. If I have to choose my mental home, it is not with the ever so nice Swedes but in the melancholy, rough East that has to do with sentimentality, Markku Heikkinen says. Unexpectedly, we found the most optimistic atmospheres on the other side of the border, Ari Matikainen adds. – People in Svetogorsk believe in tomorrow, whereas Imatra left us more with a feeling of blues.

(Interview: Johanna Westersund)