Oscar-nominated Selma Vilhunen‘s newest doc is galloping into Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival.
In Hobbyhorse Revolution, Vilhunen follows three young girls — Aisku, Elsa and Alisa — whose lives have been transformed by their new interest: hobbyhorses.
While playing with hobbyhorses is a traditional children’s activity, Finnish teenagers have created a versatile hobby around it, raising the scene to a whole new level. The hobbyists are active online with instagram accounts, blogs and forums, while others practice the sport by exercising outdoors in woods and parks.
Vilhunen spoke with realscreen about the film and the hobbyhorse phenomenon:
How did you find out about hobbyhorsing?
My friend and cinematographer sent me a link in 2012 to video that was made in a hobbyhorse competition. It was overwhelming, funny and really charming and I wanted to learn more. I started Googling immediately and found the Finnish Hobbyhorse Forum, already had a lot of members. There were dozens and dozens of threads open, and that’s when the universe kind of opened up before me. I also found videos made by the hobbyhorse stables on YouTube and instructional videos. I was smitten.
Why did you think a doc needed to be made about hobbyhorsing?
I really felt like I had come across something very unique and special. I didn’t know right away what it was all about, but I felt like there was a lot to capture, and I felt like I and this phenomenon had something to give to each other. I was also charmed by the fact that these girls who were well into their teens were able to use their imagination in this way. I found it quite liberating and radical.
What were the next steps after you found out about hobbyhorsing?
I started to slowly do the research and casting. I came forward on the hobbyhorse forums, posting my thoughts and explained how I wanted to make a film. We talked about what kind of film the hobbyhorse enthusiasts would want to see and what issues it would address. At the same time, I was asking if anyone would like to be part of this project. At first no one really wanted to be filmed — they preferred to be anonymous, almost like a secret society. Only a few people were interested. This went on for months, and then in 2013 I went to the Finnish championships and that’s when I met Alisa for the first time. I had already seen her videos and I knew she was kind of one of the [veterans] of the hobbyhorsing.
That’s also when I bumped into Elsa and her friends. I kind of fell in love with her because of the way that she and her friends were treating their little ones. They were so gentle.
Later, I put an announcement in a horseback riding magazine where I want to ask people to be a part of our documentary. Aisku contacted me through that.
I imagine working on a doc involving teenage girls can be challenging.
Absolutely. That was by far the biggest challenge. I always told myself that it would pay off in the end, so I tried to let the girls have their own rhythm. I think it worked out, but even in the middle of shooting we had some issues. At one point Aisku kind of freaked because she thought the film was going to be a disaster and didn’t want her friends to know she rode hobbyhorses. But then towards the release of the film, those feelings of her sort of melted away and I guess she grew up enough to feel stronger about her hobby.
Were you anxious about the girls’ reception of the film?
I was really nervous about what they would think and if they would want to be censored somehow. But luckily they all loved it. I was also anxiouss about how the community would react to the film because they can be quite protective of their hobby and how its portrayed.
How do you see this doc shining a light on hobbyhorsing?
I think that the hobby itself has been evolving over time and the community has wanted to talk about it more. I think they want to be given credit for what they do.
That was also a spark for me when I realized how diverse the hobbyhorsing community is and how many skills the girls develop. I felt bad about the fact that they have to hide it. I wanted to gently bring their skills out in the open so they could be given credit for all the amazing things that do, such as organize championships and basically creating a hobby by themselves for themselves.
Did you find any challenges when it came to funding this film or finding distribution?
This one was quite easy to fund. There were some technical issues, but that really didn’t have much to do with the will of the financiers. It was more of a cash flow issue. The institutions behind this were quite eager to hop on, both in Finland and in Sweden.
How have your past docs influenced your work?
This is my third feature length documentary, so I do see some patterns. I like to capture a lot of footage and I like to just be in the middle of the questions. I allow myself to be explore and be in constant conversation with reality. I observe, film a lot, and get a lot of material. And somehow it seems to me that out of a large amount of material the important scenes start to glow a little bit. So once you start editing, you just know what’s part of the film and what’s not.
I like to go to work towards topics that aren’t very clear to me. I’m not interested in handing out information because I believe that that can be done in writing. I’m always looking for things that can only be told through cinema. That’s why my stories aren’t so fact or plot driven — they’re more about themes and rhythms.
What do you hope viewers take away from “Hobbyhorse Revolution”?
I’m hoping that some people will broaden their perspectives and I hope it will help people to question their own prejudices. We have preconceptions all the time and we need to question them. I hope that this film provides tools to do that. Also, people don’t need to understand all things, but they can respect them. I hope this film will help people find their own hobbyhorse, whatever that is.
- Hobbyhorse Revolution premieres at Hot Docs on Wednesday May 3 at 5:30 p.m. ET at Scotiabank Theatre 4. Visit the festival’s website for complete screening info.
- The 2017 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival runs April 27 to May 7.