Vancouver’s documentary film festival, DOXA, showed Steam of Life last night at the Kay Meek Centre in West Vancouver. Steam of Life takes you inside saunas across Finland and into the hearts of the men who bare-all while taking part in this quintessentially Finnish experience. The documentary is a series of vignettes in which men share their most emotional stories from budding romance to the death of a child.
The camera shots are tight, without any zooming or panning, but they take in the spaces and faces of the men in a disarmingly intimate way. Watching, you get the feeling you are sitting on the bench with them and sharing their private (and often unusual) spaces.
In a Skype interview after the screening, director Mika Hotakainen said the success of the movie is due to timing. “Society [is] ready to accept the feelings of men,” he said.
The scenes from saunas all over Finland were completely unscripted and, although Hotakainen said he knew what the men might talk about, there were a lot of surprises.
During the filming the crew spent hours a day in the sauna and, like the men telling their stories, even the cameramen were naked. This was important to Hotakainen, who said they wanted to “create an atmosphere that we are all in this together.”
To overcome the technical challenges of shooting in extreme conditions, the cameras had to be put into the saunas 90 minutes before the filming began, to allow the equipment to adjust to the temperature and humidity.
Though Hotakainen said that making a sauna movie about woman would be a lot of fun, he has no plans to do a sequel. After all, the Finnish title for the movie is Men’s Turn — their turn to reveal themselves.
At its premiere in Helsinki, the film received a 15-minute standing ovation and is Finland’s official foreign-language candidate for the Oscars.