The films were produced and directed by Dr. Michael Loukinen, a retired sociology professor who spent nearly 40 years at Northern Michigan University. Loukinen founded UP North Flims, which has produced a series of documentaries about the culture of the Upper Midwest with a strong focus on the Upper Peninsula. NMU alumnus Alex Maier was the videographer and editor of both films.
The first of the films, “Finnish American Wood Chip Carvers,” airs at 7:30 p.m. and focuses on Finnish-American woodcarvers and how they use their craft as a way to connect with nature, history and their heritage.
“They (the carvers) are really psychologically connected to the forest,” said Loukinen. “They feel a power in the wood when it’s in their hands.”
The film looks at the tools the artists use and the art that they create but the real heart of the documentary is the stories of the artists themselves.
“They learned how to do it from their grandfathers,” Loukinen said. “They didn’t go to a woodcarving school.”
The second film, “Matikka (Burbot): American Finlander Lobster,” begins at 8:30 p.m. and takes a look at the burbot, a fish which resembles an eel and is generally thought of as a “junk fish” in the United States but is considered a delicacy in many European countries, including Finland.
Loukinen says that some consider the fish to be the “ultimate cuisine” with some Finns willing to trade two trout for a single burbot.
The documentary explores the tradition involved with the catching and preperation of the fish, which some call “poor man’s lobster” or “Finlander lobster,” but also looks at scientific research into the fish, which is found in freshwater lakes on every continent in the Northern Hemisphere, as well as its peculiar reproduction cycle.
“They reproduce in the middle winter,” Dr. Jill Leonard, a biology professor at NMU, says in the film. “There’s not many things thinking about reproduction in January in the U.P.”
Loukinen has made over a dozen documentaries but this is the first time that any of his films will be premiering on PBS instead of in front of an in-person audience.
“We had plans to premiere the films but COVID-19 put a stop to that,” he said.
The projects are airing on PBS as part of its Go Public!21 fundraising campaign.
Randy Crouch can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is email@example.com.