Documentary film

Script & direction: TEEMU MÄKI

Duration: 92 minutes

 Format: 4K video, stereo sound

 Production: Merja Ritola / Greenlit Productions, 2020

Funding: YLE & AVEK


REFUGEE CONVERSATIONS / PAKOLAISKESKUSTELUJA is a 90-minute documentary film. Its themes are: refugees, racism, xenophobia, Islam, Christianity and compassion — or the lack of it.

What is the meaning and role of these in Finland, a country which according to many studies is the happiest country in the world?

The film is written and directed by
Teemu Mäki, produced by Merja Ritola / Greenlit Productions. There's a lot of music in the film, composed by Max Savikangas.


The film, REFUGEE CONVERSATIONS, is based on a radio piece called
Pakolaiskeskusteluja — radiofoninen dokumentti.

The radio piece was a 56-minute long audio work, commissioned by YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, and I made it with composer Max Savikangas in Winter of 2016–2017. The 92-minute film, which we made three years later, is a much broader piece than the radio work was.

It's a documentary film, but it uses also the means of experimental film, media art and cinematic essay. It consists of five different materials.

The first material are the interviews. In the Fall of 2016 I interviewed three Iraqi men — Bariq Hameed, Atheer Munder Saeed and Badr Khudhair Hayal — for the radio piece. They had come to Finland as adults seeking asylum. The interpreter in these interviews was an anonymous interpreter, who was born in Iran, but came to Finland as a child with her refugee parents. She has lived most of her life in Finland and has Finnish citizenship. Three years later, when we were making the film, I interviewed them again, to find out what had happened, how their lives had changed and how the way they are treated has changed during their stay in Finland. And whether they had been granted asylum or not.

The second material in the film are statistics. The film presents a wide variety of numerical facts I picked from the official statistics of European Union and Finland. These numbers tell about refugees, immigration, Islam, income disparity and safety in Finland and elsewhere. The citations were recorded in a radio studio, as spoken or performed by YLE's newsreader Jussi-Pekka Rantanen, reporter Anna-Maria Talvio and actor Joonas Heikkinen. Also I spoke some of the citations.

The third significant material type in the film is hate speech — or so-called anti-immigrant voices. The film quotes writings and speeches of xenophobic activists and racist politicians. Not to boost their ideology, but expose it to critical thought. Some anti-immigrant persons even speak with their own voices in the film, in fragments I have culled from television news and from video clips that racist organisations have uploaded online.

The fourth important material in the film is music. The radiophonic work was composed from music, sounds and spoken word. That become in organic part of the film too, because I used the radiophonic work as the soundtrack of the first part of the film. For the film Max Savinkangas also composed a new chamber piece, Maxams, which is also heard in the film in its entirety. The music in the film is played by
Veli Kujala, quarter tone accordion, Max Savikangas, viola, and Sampo Lassila, double bass.

The fifth ingredient are pictures — the kind of pictures, which are not derived from the interviews and also do not just simply illustrate what is said in the dialogue. For example photos of old church paintings are this kind of material.

We also perform a poem by Bertolt Brecht in the film, and we do it twice.

Helsinki 24.1.2020,


PREMIERE: YLE Teema & Fem, 19.5.2020


Hanna Telakoski: "Teemu Mäen Pakolaiskeskusteluja näyttää vihan ajassamme – arkinen ja abstrakti kohtaavat kokeellisesti". Kulttuuritoimitus, 20.5.2020. If the link doesn't work anymore, you can find a PDF-version of the critique HERE.


Script and direction: Teemu Mäki
Script & direction:

The interviewees:
Maryan Abdulkarim, Sanna Valtonen

n anonymous interpreter & Simon Hussein Al-Bazoon

Joonas Heikkinen, Teemu Mäki, Jussi-Pekka Rantanen, Anna-Maria Talvio

Musical composition, field recording, editing of music & sound processing:
Max Savikangas
Radiophonic part directed by:
Teemu Mäki & Max Savikangas

Veli Kujala — quarter-tone accordion
Sampo Lassila — double bass
Max Savikangas — viola

Mikko Haiko
Teemu Mäki
Erol Mintas
Jonatan Sundström

Teemu Mäki & Niina Vornanen

Production secretary:
Arto Kultalahti

Production assistant trainee:
Lyly Kokkonen

Sound recording:
Max Savikangas
Pentti Männikkö, YLE
Joonatan Kotila, YLE
Erol Mintas
Music recording at Sipoo New Church:
Pekka Mikael Laine

Sound engineer:
Anders Wiksten, YLE
Sound mixing:
Max Savikangas & Anders Wiksten
Tiia Vestola

Color grading:
Jüri Shestakov / Revolver Film

Archival materials, photos:
Mstyslav Chernov, Mathieu Cugnot (European Parliament), Georgios Giannopoulos, Internet publications and advertisements of anti-immigrant movements, Teemu Mäki, Kalle Parkkinen / Lehtikuva picture agency, The Finnish Defence Force Archives, Mikko Stig / Lehtikuva picture agency, The Workers' Museum Vapriikki Archives, Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva picture agency, Varisverkosto, WikiLeaks, YLE

Archival materials, videos:
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Internet publications and advertisements of anti-immigrant movements, Oleksander Rasskazov (Helsinki by drone), US Army, Varisverkosto, WikiLeaks, YLE

Rudolf Schlichter, Portrait of Bertolt Brecht, 1926. Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin, copy of K. H. Bloch's Come to Me (the altarpiece of the New Church of Sipoo). Quinten Massijs, a detail from the painting Jesus Carrying His Cross, 1510–1515. A detail from an anonymous church painting, Jesus Is Nailed to a Cross
glise Saint-Julien de Pierry, Épernay, France). Matthias Grünewald, Small Crucifixion, 1511/1520. Matthias Grünewald, a detail from Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512–1516. Rogier van der Weyden, Jesus on the Hem of Virgin Mary, a detail from the Middelburg altarpiece, 1450. Giovanni Bellini, Madonna degli Alberetti – The Madonna of the Small Trees, 1487.

Auramo refugee center Helsinki, Bertolt Brecht, Karin Kreuz, Marjut Nieminen, Restaurant Pihka (Sörnäinen, Helsinki), Sepideh Rahaa, Saku Timonen, Sanna Valtonen, Varisverkosto, Jonna Wikström & Masala Youth Theatre.

Soila Valkama (radiophonic work) YLE Radio 1 / Ääniversumi
Merja Ritola (film) Greenlit Productions
Karin Reinberg / Revolver Film

AVEK, Tuuli Penttinen-Lampisuo
Taiteen edistämiskeskus
YLE, Sari Volanen



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