Mining Gazette

‘Sisu’ film explores family, fortitude

January 16, 2016

By Dan Roblee - , 

The Daily Mining Gazette,

Houghton Michigan



HANCOCK - Sisu is many things to many people, and when Marko Albrecht asked his family to define it on tape, he got as many answers as he had cousins, though themes relating to guts and perseverance kept coming to the fore.

Albrecht spent a lot of time with his family in Finland and America while filming the documentary "Sisu," which began as a personal project centered around what he thought would be the last few months of his uncle Heiki's life after a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Heiki showed plenty of sisu, though, and lived for another three years, and Albrecht stuck with the project and kept the camera rolling. In those years, he lost several other close relatives, and watched a cousin prepare to give birth and for her father's death simultaneously.

"The documentary kind of came about organically," Albrecht said Thursday at the Finnish American Heritage Center, after a screening of the film. "I meant to document the end of his life. I thought it would be six months. It was three years."

The film was shown as part of the monthly Nordic Film Series, said Finlandia's Dave Maki, and the university's Finnish Theme Committee sponsored Albrecht's visit as part of the 2016 Heikinpaiva festival.

The documentary period wasn't an easy time for anyone, said Albrecht, but his family had the sisu to keep sharing their private thoughts with the camera. When it was all over, Albrecht had the sisu to keep his eyes on the hard times producing the film.

"It's important to have family, but also that inner strength," Albrecth said. "I wouldn't be here without my family, but you have to have self-reliance no matter what."

Albrech spent a few more years editing and producing, turning what began as a personal project into a 45-minute documentary, editing Super-8 family movies into his own footage to create a story that transcended its Finnish aspects.

The values that make up sisu - the grit, determination and stubbornness - are valued in any culture, he said, and he hoped that non-Finns could appreciate the film as well.

"Using Sisu is universal, it's not just a Finnish thing," he said. "I think any race, religion, etc. can identify with it."

Fran Grossman, a non-Finn in attendance Thursday, said she appreciated the film and easily identified with the main themes.

"Totally," she said. "Has anyone met anyone who hasn't had a death in the family."

Hilary Virtanen, a Finnish Studies professor at Finlandia, said Albrecht asking his cousins their definitions of sisu mirrors a project she incorporates into her freshman orientation class, when students share their meanings of the concept. The word's flexibility, she said, is a big part of its power.

"It's nice that it's something we can all use in the ways we need," she said.

The Nordic Film Series is held the second Thursday of each month at the heritage center. To learn more about the "Sisu" documentary or purchase it online, go to

Essential Creative