07 February 2010

Finland's First Superhero: THE NIGHT GUARDIAN (Yövartija)

We've always said that Yövartija would be an ideal name for a superhero flick,  and indeed, it now will be. Thanks to one fine Finnish filmmaker, the movie -- which translates into English as The Night Guardian -- may very well be Finland's first-ever superhero movie.  While Finland has been filming since 1896 (the first motion picture screening in the world was in 1895), the country's first produced feature didn't debut until 1907; indeed, it's only been since the mid-1990's that the Cinema of Finland has been reinvigorated. 

It's interesting to note that Finland's film industry is financed by its government; the Finnish Film Foundation provides funds for all aspects of film production and distribution, and thus is subject to the rises and falls of the nation's political and economic climates, the films themselves often politico-centric. Of the average 15 to 20 films now made annually in Finland, no Finnish film has ever breached a budget of more than $5M, and commercial success has only recently become acceptable to movie makers.  
All that said, Yövartija (The Night Guardian), which began production last August, is an intriguing new development, especially because adding a superhero genre film to the country's relatively very short list of feature credits seems a bold departure from the norm. After all, Cinema of Finland is no Bollywood; Finland's films tend to stand on their own without mimicking Hollywood franchises and story lines. For an industry not motivated by profit margins, the allure of superhero cinema has nevertheless found a foothold, and it's a curious thing.

Aside from the notorious Tom of Finland, comics themselves have only recently found a more mainstream acceptance within the country and while beginning to find audiences beyond its borders. Three comics festivals  are held in Finland each year, the largest being The Helsinki Comics Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Finnish Comics Society and which draws 5.000 - 10 ,000 visitors from across Northern Europe every autumn. According to the Master List of Comic Book and Trading Card Stores, three comic book stores call Finland home, and comics remain staples at newsstands (or kiosks) and supermarkets throughout the country. 

As the first of its Finnish kind, Yövartija promises superhero comic book themes and modern special effects set within a film noir setting.  Its hero, The Night Guardian, is a masked superhero, brought to life by the shimmer of hope from a lonely dreamer. (Yes, we think the explanation there is just a bit vague, too.)   And the movie's website asks: Courage and passion are weapons in the hands of superheroes, but is their world really all black and white?

From the few screen caps posted to Yövartija's website,  The Night Guardian character seems to be the low-budget blood brother of Gabrielle Macht's The Spirit. Another featured character resembles Sam Raimi's first filmed superhero, Darkman. Beyond just those few images, little else can be learned about the movie; its first teaser is promised to appear any day, although no date has been given for the film's intended release -- at least in English.
From the United Kingdom to Mexico to Japan, Spain, Italy, and more, superheroes have found new interpretation through international cinema.  Though Hollywood's obsession with its men in tights and body armor may stem from box office receipts and licensing deals, superheroes' popularity with audiences is driven by different stuff, from the cultural to the symbolic and psychological.  Yövartija''s arrival in Finland may be nothing more than one movie maker's fan-boy dream -- but it could be much more than that.  A film very worthy of our label 'Coming Attraction,' only time will reveal exactly what lies behind The Night Guardian's mask.

Do you want to keep current with Finland's first hero, The Night Guardian? Check out the film's very own Blogspot blog HERE.

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