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Old Finnish paper mill offers "unbelievable" setting for action film, pop video

The Kainuu region of north-central Finland hopes to establish "Kajawood" based around a former UPM factory in Kajaani. It's already been used as the location for a new action film and a video by rock band the Rasmus.

Rendel-elokuvahahmo polvistuneena maahan.
Rendel, starring Kris Gummerus, was filmed in a vast old industrial space in Kajaani. Image: Juuli Aschan / Black Lion Pictures

Shuttered paper mills and factories around Finland are finding new life. Google has set up a data centre in a former Stora Enso mill in Hamina, south-east Finland, while a former Nokia plant in western Finland is now the Cable Factory cultural centre. More than 550 kilometres to the north, a disused UPM paper mill in Kajaani, is now being used as a movie and rock video set.

Rendel, billed as the first Finnish-made superhero movie, opened this week. The violent action movie was filmed in the Kainuu region on a budget of about 1.5 million euros, the first feature directed by Jesse Haaja. Most of the cast - and dialogue - is Finnish, but there are also English-speaking roles played by actors from Canada, Australia and Ireland.

Jesse Haaja Rendel-julisteen vieressä.
Jesse Haaja Image: Nadja Mikkonen / Yle

Most of the picture was filmed at the old mill, now called the Renfors Riverbank Business Park. The complex also houses a VTT Technical Research Centre measurement facility and banks of supercomputers.

Underground criminal gang sets up shop

"Nearly 80 percent of the film was set at Renfors," Haaja tells Yle. "We were given a free hand to use the space, and were able to create the world of an underground criminal gang there."

Rendelin päänäyttelijä Alina Tomnikov.
The film co-stars Finnish-Russian actor Alina Tomnikov. Image: Kalle Heikkinen / Yle

Haaja describes the space as unbelievably large, with open halls up to 300 metres in length, with a wide variety of spaces dating back to different eras. Parts of the factory date back to 1919.

"There are places where you really don't want to go but we filmed there too, because nobody had been in there for 60 years. It probably wasn't terribly healthy to be in there, but you could never build sets like that. Nobody could imagine them," the director says.

Kajaani beats Helsinki

Local officials have been trying to find a use for the facility since UPM closed the paper mill in 2008.

Kainuu has already been used for several movie productions since 1999, including a remake of the classic Unknown Soldier.

Haaja says that it was much easier to get things done there than in the capital region. For instance, he recalls once needing to have an electrical distribution box opened during a film project in Helsinki. That took about 50 phone calls and a fee of 500 euros – just to have the box opened for an hour.

"I'll never film in Helsinki again, at least not in the city centre," says Haaja with a chuckle.

In Kainuu, he says, everyone has been very friendly and helpful.

"There's no doubt that if I have another film project in Finland, I'll bring it to Kainuu first," he says.

Kajaani becomes "Kajawood"

Besides the feature film, Haaja also used the Renfors facility to shoot a video for the rock band the Rasmus, performing the movie's theme song "Wonderman".

The Rasmus.
The Rasmus filming "Wonderman". Image: Katja Oittinen / Yle

The Rasmus, who sold some four million albums worldwide in the early 2000s, are to release their first album since 2008 in early October.

During the shoot, the band's leader singer Lauri Ylönen referred to Kajaani as "Kajawood," a name that local officials would be glad to see established. Already some Hollywood producers have visited the old mill and reportedly been suitably impressed.

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