Friday, June 11, 2010

The Prairie Equivalent of Fitzcarraldo

Just south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, on the 40-acre grounds of tourist attraction Pioneer Village, sits the Sontiainen, a funky looking red and white steamship-slash-houseboat. Until recently, it was the most notable reminder of the strange and incredible tale of Tom Sukanen, a U.S.-to-Canada Finnish farmer immigrant who died in 1943 after spending 10 years working on the vessel in hopes of one day using it to get back to his homeland.

With the arrival of the $25,000 independent feature drama Sisu: The Death of Tom Sukanen, the tale of "The Crazy Finn" is poised to be rediscovered and savored in the same way as Werner Herzog's 1982 classic Fitzcarraldo and the 1986 Harrison Ford curiosity The Mosquito Coast. The movie was written, directed and produced by Chrystene Ells, a long-time special effects whiz at George Lucas' ILM who used her late father's life insurance policy money to fund the project.

Landlocked lunacy?
(Copyright Sukanen Ship Museum)

Although Sisu was sneaked last September at the Montreal World Film Festival, it will have its first public screening this Saturday, June 12th at the Lyric Theatre in Swift Current. Ells, who is now a permanent resident of Saskatchewan and in the process of officially immigrating to Canada, will be in attendance alongside local co-star Brian Dueck and First A.D. Raul Viceral. (The role of Sukanen is played by veteran San Francisco theater actor Don Wood.)

As with all indie labors of love, a great deal of resourcefulness and collaboration was relied upon to complete the project. Ells created the 2D animation sequences for the film herself, while students at Expression College for Digital Arts in Emeryville, CA handled the 3D and Finnish a cappella group MeNaiset donated some songs for the soundtrack.

[Sisu: The Death of Tom Sukanen]

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