Leena Virtanen on A Strange Message From Another Star.

 (An article from 1999)

 All of Veli Granö’s documentaries seem to share a plot, a common idea. He has directed three documentaries, all of them portraits of his characters. The first of his documentaries told the story of Matias Keskinen who made gigantic statues of Kekkonen, Finland’s former president (The Imaginary Life of Mafias Keskinen, 1991). In his film A Strange Message From Another Star the main character is Paavo Rahkonen, an American Finnish spacecraft designer. A man who has always had the need to get to another star.

            A third part of the series is An At­tempt to Raise Hell (1994), a 20-minute film portraying Dennis Oppenheim, an American conceptual artist. Granö is also a photographer and he is famous for his photographic works A Trip to Paradise and Tangible Cosmolo­gies. A Trip to Paradise pictured self-made artists, and in that group of people Granö found Matias Keskinen. Tangible Cosmologies is both a book and a cd rom and its subject is collectors. According to Granö, people collect things in an attempt to make a scattering world a whole one. ”Even for a moment.”

            Like people who collect things, Matias Keskinen and Paavo Rahkonen – even Oppenheim – have created ”small systems” of their lives that have become new worlds for them. In the same manner Veli Granö makes his films and photographic works into ”imaginary” worlds.

                        Faith in  documentary film remains strong

            Granö has also made an installation of A Strange Message From Another Star where Paavo’s reality  his own room collides with the director’s material and tools, i.e. his reality. The final question of the director is: how far has he drifted from the reality with his stories? It is quite interesting to see that documentary film still has some value as evidence.” Granö adds.

”Before, documentaries had great social mission, and it did work in the beginning. But when the world and people’s idea of reality changed, documen­tary film lost its credibility. I myself have never thought that a picture would portray the reality. In a film everything is just using the means of film. Only the character is real any­thing else is not.” Granö explains.

”But people still want to believe in documentaries. It is strange, maybe even scary; because you’ll always find people who want to make others believe some­thing. In this sense, TV is an extremely politicized medium. It feeds people its violent and threatening reality”

Granö talks about the surprising comeback of utopia of reality. It is a regression from the postmodem discus­sion and experiments of the early 1990s.

”The discussion of false documen­taries that we have heard lately is sign of the media trying to protect its own credi­bility.” Granö says.

                                    Art is commitment

            According to the traditional view, a docu­mentary film should also be able to maintain in an illusion of the invisible camera, otherwise the audience will feel embarrassed and acward. Granö believes that this is one of the reasons why Virpi Suu­tari’s and Susanna Helke’s Sin provoked so many. It neither hid the presence ofthe camera nor the joy of voyeurism that is always found in documentary film. ”It aroused feelings of guilt in the viewers”

”Documentary film is not supposed to shatter the old and humanistic idea that people’s basic and fundamental na­ture is good and benevolent. The modernistic view of man still remains very strong.”

Granö says that the story Paavo Rahkonen’s life, with all its details, was so bizarre that the director actually had to polish it a bit to preserve its ”credibility”. In spite of this, after seeing the film, people still ask if the story is true.

            Rahkonen’s father left Finland and moved to the United States to recover from trauma inflicted by the Finnish civil war and the battle of Tampere. The trauma, however, followed him to the new continent and passed on to his son Paavo who already as a child started dreaming about space.

Rahkonen’s father was possessed by the desire to escape the wickedness ofthe world. His son has also experienced the same. The documentary film tells about the reasons, a long chain of events.

Granö says that A Strange Message From Another Star also tells what it is like to be an artist. ”Creating art is also based on commitment ”

Leena Virtanen

The writer is journalist at Helsingin Sanomat. 

The article was published October 14, 1999.