Under the Red Star to Screen at Bay Street Film Festival



On September 29, at 7:00 pm, the Bay Street Film Festival will host a special community screening of Under the Red Star, one the biggest film productions ever undertaken in Northwestern Ontario. Three years in the making, this feature-length docu-drama was made by local award-winning filmmakers, Kelly Saxberg (director) and Ron Harpelle (producer). Saxberg has numerous film credits to her name. Notably, she directed Rosies of the North (1999) and Letters from Karelia (2004) for the National Film Board of Canada, and she also recently directed Citizens of the World (2010) a six-part documentary series on international development. Harpelle has produced and/or directed a number of films with Kelly Saxberg. These include Banana Split, (2002) Dorothea Mitchell: A Reel Pioneer, (2006) and In Security (2010). As a team, Saxberg and Harpelle have produced several historical documentaries that have been shown across Canada and around the world. Their latest film will appeal to viewers interested in immigration and the history of the Left in Canada. Under the Red Star combines drama with archival footage and photographs to bring an important chapter in Canadian history alive.

The film tells the story of the early history of Finnish immigration and settlement at the Lakehead. The Finnish Labour Temple, which was built in 1910, serves as the backdrop for the events depicted in the film. Under the Red Star is a period piece performed in English and Finnish. The film includes appearances by Finnish actors Elena Leeve, and Jussi Nikkilä. Elena Leeve is a two-time Jussi Award winner for Best Actress. The Jussi Award is the Finnish film industry’s most prestigious award and Elena is one of Finland’s biggest film stars. One of Jussi Nikkilä’s first film roles was in Kelly Saxberg’s Letters from Karelia and since then he has appeared in several award-winning films. Also appearing in a lead role is local actor, Rauli Pohjolainen who was born in Finland and has worked in theatre across Canada. Several other local performers have key roles in the film. These familiar faces help make Under the Red Star a community experience.

Set in the first half of the twentieth century, Under the Red Star boasts a cast of over two hundred local actors and extras. According to director Kelly Saxberg, one of the best things about this production was the support obtained from the local Finnish community. “It is difficult to find actors and extras at the best of times, but we needed Finnish-speaking participants and there are few places on the planet, except Finland, where we could find so many people who could perform in Finnish.”

The film project would not be possible without support from, among others, the Ontario Arts Council, the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation, the Institute of Migration in Turku, Finland. The filmmakers are also grateful for local support from the Finlandia Association of Thunder Bay and several local businesses and individuals whose enthusiasm has made this production a reality. Ron Harpelle says that this type of production is a testament to what we can do in a city like Thunder Bay. “In larger centres we would not be able to get the kind of community support we can get in Thunder Bay. Anything is possible if you have a community behind you and the Finnish community was behind us all the way.”

Dr. Ronald Harpelle

News RSS Feed Stay Informed - Subscribe to our RSS Feed