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'Sisu - the Death of Tom Sukanen' is not a documentary
Who was Tom Sukanen? Many people have their stories and ideas about Tom, and surely many more will surface. Many people have accepted the standard version of the story as told mostly by Lawrence "Moon" Mullen of Moose Jaw, or the play The Shipbuilder by Ken Mitchell, or the mostly fabricated book Dustship Glory by Andreas Schroeder.
We made this film for just around $20,000. The research we did included interviewing anyone we could find who knew Tom or had a story about him, including his late nephew Elmer Sukanen of Lucky Lake. We included any information we got from local people, as long as we got it in time to weave into the film. Writer/director Chrystene Ells traveled to Finland to research the Finnish culture and language.
The most amazing revelations were completely new, and were not included in the traditional versions of the story that many of us have heard for the past 30 years. These new additions to the story came from members of Tom's family from Finland, and from his long-lost biological granddaughter, Nina Peacock, from the United States, who had discovered documents, photographs and letters written by Tom in the belongings of her deceased mother, Tom's daughter, who had been adopted by another family as a child.
But Tom did not leave a diary. He lived alone on the edge of society. What little we know has been blended with so many stories, fabricated and real, and in many ways the real story of Tom Sukanen has been lost forever. Where we had information we tried to include it. Where there were gaps we filled them as best we could. But ultimately Tom Sukanen has become a myth, and as they say, the story comes from the storyteller.
As it turns out, we continued to learn things from family members long after the film was finished about Tom's life in Finland and Minnesota that completely rewrite the history created about him in Saskatchewan. And there are so many other ideas people have. Perhaps as one person told us, Tom truly was crazy and the fact that he was a communist proves it. Perhaps as someone else said, Tom was a socialist and his ship was meant for use in the Finnish-Russian war. Perhaps he was a bully, or an artist, or a genius, or a kook... or maybe he was just Finnish.
In any case, one thing is certain: the myth of Tom Sukanen will go on, and grow and change, and other storytellers will take it up and do their best with what they unearth... and we look forward to the next version!
For more on the film, please visit the Sisu Website.