Students in field

Finnish-American documentary wins prestigious Eclipse Award

June 6, 2018


An Eclipse took place in early May in Grand Rapids, and in this instance no special glasses are needed for viewing – just a DVD player and an interest in the history of Finnish-American co-operatives.

“Co-operatively Yours,” the 2017 film by Kristin Ojaniemi and the Finnish American Heritage Center, took home the “Best Documentary” honor at the 2018 Eclipse Awards, an annual event created to honor Michigan’s creators in film and television. The Eclipse Awards are chosen by past winners in the entry’s particular category, as well as independent judges from Michigan, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Buy Co-operatively Yours

The documentary, which chronicles the history of the Finnish-American co-operative movement, centers around Settlers Co-op, the Finn-founded co-operative store in Bruce Crossing, Michigan, which celebrated its centennial in 2017. Both Ojaniemi and Finnish American Heritage Center Director Jim Kurtti are Bruce Crossing natives, and hatched the idea for the film at a high school graduation party in their hometown. While the number of Finnish-American co-operatives has dwindled substantially since its heyday in the mid 20thcentury, there are still a few active Finnish-founded co-op stores in the United States; four of these are in the Upper Peninsula, in Chatham, Trenary and Rudyard, as well as Bruce Crossing.

“I didn’t expect a handshake at a graduation party to lead to a gold statue,” Ojaniemi said. “I also didn’t imagine that I’d become so immersed in Finnish-American culture. Doing this film presented an excellent opportunity to learn more about Finnish history and culture.”

Even though Ojaniemi grew up in Bruce Crossing, and knew of the co-op since she was a child, she didn’t know a great deal about Settlers Co-op’s history and its prominence in Finnish-American history.

“I didn’t think about it that way, but it is like icing on the cake to be presented with an award for a film that’s about your home town,” she said. “It’s gratifying to be able to tell a good story about a place I knew – but not as well as I thought I did.”

When Ojaniemi and Kurtti put their heads together, they came up with a way to overcome that hurdle, with the result being that “Co-operatively Yours” is truly an international production. Ojaniemi and Kurtti traveled to Finland in spring 2017 to conduct interviews with Finnish experts on the co-operative movement. Later that year, the Finnish national broadcasting company YLE purchased the exclusive rights to broadcast the film in Finland, and it’s scheduled to air at least twice on national television in Finland. The dates of these broadcasts haven’t yet been announced.

“It’s a story about one store, but really is the story of the co-operative movement through the lens of one store,” Kurtti said. “To see this young Finnish-American woman start to appreciate what was right under her nose her whole life and unravel its history is very gratifying.

“That’s what the Finnish American Heritage Center is here to do – to help people understand their roots.”

Folks interested in seeing this unique feature don’t have to fly to Finland. Copies of the film are available on DVD through the Finnish American Heritage Center for only $20 (plus $5 shipping) or at several retail outlets across the U.P. and beyond. All proceeds from sales support future cultural programming at the Heritage Center. For further information about how you can purchase copies for yourself and all of your friends who grew up in Finnish-American “co-op towns,” call (906) 487-7549.

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