Two people dressed in snowsuits are skiing in a conifer forest blanketed in pristine snow. They glide along almost silently, father and son. Suddenly they stop; at a distance they can hear the sound they have been waiting for, one of clicks and hisses by turns. It is mating season for the wood grouse and Santeri and Sergei Lesonen from Venehjärvi are out hunting.
The young man skis on ahead a few more metres, and then in an experienced manner he lifts his gun to his cheek, aims and fires. The great bird of the primeval forest slumps down lifeless at the root of a stunted pine.
Sergei the Healer is a documentary about the small struggling Viena Karelian village of Venehjärvi in the middle of Europe's most valuable wild forestland. The film shows the self-sufficient lifestyle of the village over a period of five years, seen through the eyes of three generations.
Venehjärvi, the pearl of the Viena region, is a uniquely beautiful Karelian village. The village became deserted during the Soviet era, and then some of the old Venehjärvi inhabitants and their offspring returned to their native shores in the beginning of the 1990's. One of the returnees, Santeri Lesonen - village leader and a descendent of a great line of soothsayers - is one of the latter day heroes of the Viena wilderness region upon whose shoulders rests the future of an entire threatened culture.
Apart from the son Sergei and father Santeri, another main character in the film Sergei the Healer is the wiry and vigorous old man of Venehjärvi, Sulo Lesonen.
Through the experiences of the main characters, the film reflects the close relationship between man and nature in the very wildness area which was the cradle of Kalevala Epic culture and where grouse, wolves and bears still share their habitats with humans. Sergei the Healer is a touching tale of a young man's formative years in the farthest northwest of Russia, where pagan rituals including ram slaughtering and the Pohrottša Day ceremony live side by side with the Orthodox Church. The film is a warm depiction of the bond between a father and son and of the last supporters of a fast disappearing Viena culture. It tells of the present situation where Karelian boys run the risk of becoming cannon fodder in far off conflicts and where the liquidation of "villages without prospects" has again become a topic in far off decision-makers' speeches. It is the saga of smooth-tongued Sulo who has crafted hundreds of wooden boats and who still has two tasks to accomplish: the handing down of his boat-crafting skills to Sergei and then the crafting of his own coffin.
Sergei the Healer is a homage paid to an endangered culture, to the rugged northern nature and to the traditional form of observation documentary filmmaking in which time stands still and people's lives are observed really close-up, skin close. The key question is will Santeri's son Sergei remain to build on his home village, or will he move with so many other Viena young people to the mining city of Kostomuksha which, apart from the tall smoke stacks and stench of sulphur, also has work to offer.
Documentarians Petteri Saario and Juha Taskinen observed life in Venehjärvi in the years from 2003 to 2007, making around twenty trips to the village. During the course of these trips, they were able to record unique pictorial footage and sound material of one of the last remaining indigenous cultures of Europe. The film follows in the spirit of the filmmakers' previous documentary about Viena Karelia: "Village of the Sleeping Beauty" -which received prizes at several international festivals.
Sergei the Healer has been produced by Taiga Films in collaboration with the Finnish Broadcasting Company, YLE, and Norddeutscher Rundfunk. The Finnish Film Foundation has also participated with funding for the film. The original film score was composed by Perttu Hietanen.