Tribeca Film Festival 2013: Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys


Comedian Patton Oswalt once said the reason why he loved the Coen Brothers' films is because they drop you in a place and a time, and they don't explain much. Rather than acting as tour guide through their world, they expect the audience to be smart and guide themselves through the experience. Jessica Oreck takes a similar approach to the animal documentary with Aatsinki: The Story of Arctic Cowboys. There is no Morgan Freeman narration to lead the audience through the happy shiny world of reindeer herding, but as someone who has seen plenty of those Morgan Freeman nature documentaries, this was a needed change of pace.

Aarne and Lasse Aatsinki are brothers and the leaders of a reindeer herding collective in Lapland. The film follows their work with the reindeer as the seasons change. They herd the the reindeer in astounding numbers through the forests and across the countryside, utilizing old and new technology in their work. On the ground, men follow along on four-wheelers while others monitor the herd from the air in a helicopter. When they reach their destination, the herders categorize each deer, writing it out by hand with their own code and system to everything. After that, many reindeer are slaughtered and skinned with the meat and hides sold. Other reindeer are trained, and during the winter months, the reindeer become a sort of tourist attraction for outdoorsy families. Sleigh rides, hot cocoa, that whole bit. The documentary eventually wraps back around to where it began, at the start of the season, and it all begins again for another year.

What I found so commendable about Aatsinki was that I was able to follow everything that was going on and remain engaged without narration or a sentimental soundtrack. Even the language barrier wasn't really a problem. Some parts of the film have English subtitles, but there are long stretches in Finnish that are not translated, which is kind of the point. The film drops the audience in amongst these people and into this culture so that we can observe the work. In the slaughterhouse, I can tell by their tone and laughter that the workers are keeping a light tone in their conversation. I don't need to know exactly what is being said. After the work is done, a man sits outside in his bloody clothes, quietly smoking a cigarette, and the shot composition is so well done that I'm glad there is no narrator telling me how this man feels.

If I had one complaint about the film, it runs just a little too long. Perhaps there could have been a little less of the family looking for mushrooms or they could have trimmed up one of the other scenes that didn't directly tie into their work. Otherwise, it is a small complaint for a very well-made film. The cinematography work is excellent, a necessity for a narration-less film, and it is worth a watch either in theaters or on a large, expensive HD TV. The film's opening scenes of the reindeer herd moving across the land were absolutely breathtaking. This is director Jessica Oreck's second documentary, and I am excited to see what is ahead for this talented young filmmaker.

Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at http://rachelekolb.wordpress.com.


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