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They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains is a short film that combines the stories of Finnish refugees at the end of the World War II with the journeys of refugees from Iraq who have travelled to Finland in the present day.

In 2015, 30,000 refugees, mainly from Iraq, crossed the border from Haparanda, Sweden to Tornio. However, less than 100 years ago, the stream of refugees flowed in the opposite direction when 56,000 Finns fled to Sweden across the same border during the autumn of 1944. The Finns travelled to Sweden on boats and trains as well as on foot, having walked for days and for hundreds of kilometers through the wilderness of Northern Finland.

By combining these stories, They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains places the present refugee situation within a historical context, and presents a different view of Finnish history, where Northern Finland is seen as a place that people have both escaped from and sought shelter in.

The film mixes the past and the present by showing refugees from Iraq re-enacting scenes of Finns leaving Northern Finland. The narration in the film is based on archival letters, diaries and interviews of Finns who escaped to Sweden as refugees in 1944. They tell stories of the difficult journey, cultural differences, the feeling of leaving their homes and homeland, and the safety of arriving in a peaceful host nation – stories which clearly resonate with the experiences of refugees today.

By creating a dialog between the past and present, the film fights against historical amnesia, reminding us that not so long ago Finns and Europeans were themselves refugees and migrants. The film highlights the importance of hospitality, and our responsibility to protect and welcome others by recognizing our shared vulnerability in times of difficulty.

The exhibition version of They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains premiered at the Turku Art Biennale on 16 November 2017.

Rainio & Roberts were awarded the 8th Turku Biennial prize for the film on 19 February 2018.

Written and directed by Minna Rainio & Mark Roberts - rainioroberts.com
Produced by Flatlight Creative House - flatlight.fi

Prizes and Awards
Turku Biennial Prize, 2018
Winner - Best International Documentary Short, Royal Starr Film Festival, USA (2019)
Special Mention, Young Jury, Frontdoc Short Film Festival, Italy (2018)

Competition Screenings
Official Selection - Camden International Film Festival, Maine, USA (2018)
Official Selection - Aesthetica Film Festival, York, UK (2018)
Official Selection - Reggio Film Festival, Italy (2018)
Official Selection - Frontdoc Short Film Festival, Italy (2018)
Official Selection - Prescott Film Festival, USA (2019)
Official Selection - Close Up: Reykyavik Film Ferstival, Iceland (2019)
Official Selection - Royal Starr Film Festival, Michigan, USA, (2019)
Official Selection - Margate Film Festival, Margate, UK (2019)

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They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains
single-screen video


written & directed by
minna rainio & mark roberts

maria gullsten

director of photography
ilmari mannermaa

jani johansén

soundscape & composer
janne airaksinen


produced by
Flatlight Creative House

funded by
AVEK / Tuuli Penttinen-Lampisuo
KONE Foundation
Kordelin Foundation
Arts Promotion Center Finland
Rovaniemen Kylien Kehittämissäätiö