“A Moment in the Reeds” – a queer Finnish / Syrian story of discovery
Having moved to Paris to attend university, Leevi returns to his native Finland for the summer to help his estranged father renovate the family lake house so it can be sold. Tareq, a recent asylum seeker from Syria, has been hired to help with the work, and when Leevi’s father has to return to town on business, the two young men spend a few days discovering one another during the Finnish midsummer. A Moment in the Reeds is among the first queer feature films ever made in Finland, viewing the country from the perspectives both of an immigrant and an emigrant. The film casts the long-marginalized voices of sexual and ethnic minorities centre-stage in a story about the search for freedom, acceptance and a place to call home.
Immigration and nationalism have been at the forefront of the news for a couple years now, especially within Europe, and more recently in the United States after the changing of the guard. This film addresses some of the issues around this, specifically the tragic Syrian migrant crisis. Scandinavia is one section of Europe that has held steadfast to keeping their borders tightly monitored, and Finland specifically with one of its borders up against Russia. So to take on such a topic, with the added fact of the immigrant Syrian character also being gay, makes for a strong filmmaking move, on top of the fact that Finland hasn’t had much in the way of queer cinema before.
It should also be noted that A Moment in the Reeds is also directed by an openly gay director, with both leading actors and all of its producers also openly gay. A bold statement is made. The story is as simple as the backdrop setting at a cabin in the woods. Two young men meet upon chance, and soon their gaydar goes off, and they realize there’s an attraction between them. Given the opportunity to move on that when Leevi’s father is away, allows them to not only explore their relationship but also discover more about each other as well, both similarities and differences. They discover they both ran away from home to be themselves, although the circumstances were obviously quite different. Leevi’s father has the attitude of a typical white older male, fearing change. He soon realizes something is astray and his racist comments soon drive Tareq away, and Leevi again as well, although separately. So while the film can be looked at as not much more than a summer fling, there’s definitely much more to take away from this film than the great love-making scenes!
Director Mikko Makela is a London-based filmmaker who, feeling compelled to fill the queer void in Finnish cinema, decided to return to his native Finland to make his debut feature. Having studied Drama at City Literary Institute, he has also recently been seen acting on stage in the Arcola Queer Collective’s revival of Mae West’s The Drag as well as making an appearance in John Cameron Mitchell’s film How to Talk to Girls at Parties.
For a country that legalized same-sex civil unions in 2004 and that likes to think of itself as quite progressive, it felt odd to me that by the time we shot the film in 2016, Finland had yet to produce a single feature film with same-sex love as its central focus. To ensure the authenticity of this representation, I sought to make this a queer film not simply in subject matter but also in terms of the production team: whilst 2017 saw the world premieres of two other Finnish queer films (about time!).
Rather than writing a traditional screenplay I wrote a 30-page mainly prose “scriptment” in which the film’s plot and scenes with their beats were outlined in detail, but which for the most part left the exact words of the dialogue for the actors to come up with. I involved all the actors in developing the backstories for their characters. In particular, with our two leading actors, Boodi and Janne, I also encouraged them to introduce some elements from their own life experiences. This was especially important in the case of the character Tareq, as Boodi, a gay
Syrian himself, was able to bring to the role detail and authenticity drawn from lived experience.
At its heart, the film is about two people who have fled their native countries – one, of course, is in far more privileged circumstances than the other – for a freer, safer life elsewhere: a common trajectory for queer
people migrating from hostile environments to safer spaces. The two characters view Finland very differently: Leevi’s privilege is evident in his having been able to reject this relatively liberal society that for Tareq appears as a place where he can finally live freely. It was the tension inherent in this unexpected and problematic crossing of paths that I wanted to explore. I hoped that by staging an intimate love story between two fully-formed, human characters with not dissimilar hopes and dreams – one Finnish, one Syrian – I might get some audiences
to see beyond their prejudices.
A MOMENT IN THE REEDS is available in the U.S. and Canada on VOD and digital platforms including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play and Youtube Movies, and in the U.S. on DVD through Amazon. Released by Wild Beast Productions.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.