MARQUETTE, Mich.—Northern Michigan University will celebrate the 30-year filmmaking career of sociology professor Michael Loukinen with a retrospective featuring six of his finest documentaries. From February through April, the films will be shown to the public free of charge. Most have not been viewed by audiences for several years.

            Medicine Fiddle will kick off the tribute at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5, on the big screen in 102 Jamrich Hall. The 81-minute, award-winning documentary celebrates the fiddling and dancing traditions of Native and Metis families on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border. The fiddle was introduced to Native peoples by French fur traders in the late 1600s and by Irish and Scottish trappers, lumberjacks and homesteaders a century later. Though European in origin, the fiddling and step-dancing traditions of both Indian and mixed-blood descendants now reflect a strong Native influence and are sustained largely by Native spiritual ideals.

            Remaining films and dates, with details announced later, are: Ojibwe Drum Songs, Feb. 19; Manoomin (Wild Rice): Ojibwe Spirit Food, March 20; a double feature of shorter films Finnish American Lives and Tradition Bearers, April 2; and Good Man in the Woods, April 23.

Loukinen grew up in Detroit and its northwestern suburbs. His parents, descendents of Upper Peninsula Finns who had emigrated from the Sami region of Finland, would speak Finnish regularly with relatives and friends. Loukinen also spent summers in the U.P. town of Jacobsville on a small dairy farm owned by his aunt and uncle.

His personal background influenced his professional activities. Loukinen joined the NMU faculty in 1976 and has published original research on social networks in rural communities and on Finnish-Americans. He has made films about this ethnic group and several others in the region, including the Ojibwe, Menominee, Ottawa, French-Canadians and Serbs. He has also recorded the traditional occupational cultures of trappers, loggers and commercial fishers.

Loukinen’s films have helped to define how the public perceives “Yoopers.” Good Man in the Woods was originally supposed to be about the emerging “Yooper” culture, but he soon scrapped the idea.  

“At that time, the identity of the ‘Yooper’ was not embraced by people in the U.P. the way it is today,” Loukinen said. “People really thought of it more as a stereotype created by outsiders, especially people in the Lower Peninsula, and some didn’t think I should make a film about it. So I decided to take a different angle. It turned out for the best. The phrase ‘good man in the woods’ was the highest compliment given to a man in the U.P.”

Since 1997, he has been working on a project to produce a digital video archive of oral history and culture for the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and to make a few documentaries based on the archive. Most of this work has done in the vicinity of Watersmeet. Two of the four films he has produced on the traditions of the local Anishinaabeg people will be shown during the retrospective.

“I was talking to Provost Susan Koch about Michael’s films, which she feels are underappreciated in the U.P. and throughout the United States,” said Dan Truckey, director of the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center at NMU. “We decided that it would be the perfect time to celebrate Michael’s films at Northern and we are also working to help create greater awareness for his work on a national level.”

The “Michael Loukinen: 30 Years of Filmmaking” retrospective is being sponsored by the provost’s office, Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center, sociology department and anthropology club at NMU. The Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs has provided substantial grant support for all of Loukinen’s documentaries.

"For more information, contact Truckey at 227-1219."

Prepared By
News Director
January 21, 2010