Freelancer and aspiring journalist from Adelaide. Visual Arts graduate & current journalism student. Fashion, lifestyle, entertainment, art & food. I also write for The Adelaidian // theadelaidian.net/author/georgina-tselekidis
A film that proves winning isn't everything
Nice People (Trevligt Folk) is a Swedish documentary about a group of Somalian refugees who fled the war in Somalia but now reside in Borlange, Sweden in hopes of a new life and future. In Borlange integration is tough and it's not easy to merely 'fit in'. Entrepreneur Patrik Andersson successfully challenges the stereotypical beliefs that the locals have placed upon the refugee residents, as he decides to use sport as a bridge to get people closer to each other by creating the first ever Somali national bandy team. His goal is to make it to the World Championship in Siberia, Russia. Due to the negative hype of the arrival of immigrants, Andersson and a group of sponsors embark on a quest to prove the locals wrong with the attempt to abolish racism within the local community. Likewise, directors Anders Helgeson and Karin af Klintberg unfold a story about bravery and doing something that hasn't been done before. As we follow their inspirational journey to Russia, we also gain an insight into the immigrants' personal lives and emotional struggle of being far away from their family in Somalia.
Nice People aims to raise questions about immigration, acceptance and community despite multicultural barriers like religion, ethnicity and beliefs. The film is realistically shot, with most scenes captured by hand-held camera to establish that it's a true story based on real people. Interviewing local Borlange residents, an automatic divide is conveyed by their outdated perceptions about the Somalian immigrants stealing cars and causing violence and mayhem; a snapshot of the underlying racism in Borlange (or around the world in fact). However, what we see is a total opposite and the film quickly proves all their assumptions wrong, as the hard working Somali men are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. We see a deeply moving glimpse of this as one of the boys admits he hasn't seen his mother in six years since he left Somalia for Sweden. He intends to return when he's saved enough money but is worried about abandoning his mother again.
The Somali team are excited about the opportunity to represent their homeland and to prove that they are worthy despite the locals' ongoing negativity. Cinematographer Erik Vallsten combines inspiring montages filled with song, slow motion and visually appeasing sequences to powerfully move the viewer and evoke an uplifting feeling as the Somalian men strive to become apart of the bigger community. Following the group and Andersson's humorous escapades (ie his trip to the Russian hairdresser), we also witness an immense nervousness of whether the team is ready to play against other groups in the Russian championship.
As the film progresses, it's easy to empathize with the Somali men who are intimated by the other participating countries, particularly when one of them intentionally concedes a goal. The humiliation that the Somali team feel is something we can similarly relate to, especially since we've all experienced moments that have challenged our skill or place in comparison to others. Because of this, it's natural for them to feel flustered and angry at their continuous losses, paired with their yearning to impress spectators, represent Somalia in a positive light and make Sweden proud. An uplifting speech by sponsor and restaurateur Billy Tang immediately encourages, comforts and raises the boys' spirits through his personal story and struggle as an immigrant himself.
Compared to the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1998 Calgary Winter Olympics, the underdog Somali bandy team is transformed into a media sensation. Not only do we see an unrivaled spirit amongst the players, but a gratitude that many of us don't seem to have. Western society tends to take things for granted, and this parallel is established by the Somali men. Although they encounter loss upon loss, they're ecstatic and joyous by their one and only goal during their last match, which acts as an example of their determination, strength, bond and overall resilience that undoubtedly defies the locals' initial and somewhat racist interpretations. Nice People celebrates the value of culture within sport and life, as well as the attempt to break barriers, oppose stereotypes and empower multicultural communities. Similarly, it evokes a personal reflection of how we perceive, judge and interpret others without knowing the full story. A teary ending alerts us to this realization, that we are all human and capable of love, loss and share the same feelings despite common differences.