A Man from the Congo River

Akseli Leppänen was an ordinary man from Northern Europe. After disappointment in love he decided to go to the Congo to meet the new world and become rich. Instead, he met the hard reality of colonialism – and he met himself.
The Belgian Congo colonial administration needed civil servants, soldiers and professionals to rule the vast area. They recruited people from the mother country and other European countries, including Scandinavia. Over 2000 Scandinavians served in different roles in the Congo from the 1880’s to the 1930’s. One of the specialist groups was the skippers and machinists of the boats on the Congo River. Akseli Leppänen was one of them.
Akseli witnesses racism and violence against the Africans, and in the beginning, he wants no part in it. But with time, his attitude changes. He, too, has clashes with black passengers and co-workers. The documentary depicts this gradual, imperceptible change: how a Christian humanist becomes a whip-wielding, sour white foreman.
The movie tells the story of Akseli Leppänen through his own diaries and letters. These unique documents are the framework for the film. His estate includes almost 100 photographs and other documents. There is also fascinating film footage from Belgian and Swedish archives. The film has scenes also from present day Congo, where the sad traces of colonialism can still be seen.
A MAN FROM THE CONGO RIVER adds an interesting chapter into the history of colonialism in Africa. It is important also in our days to tell this yet unknown colonial story with a common content of the moral choices of an individual.


Original name Kongon Akseli
Original language Finnish
Subtitles English
Genre Documentary
Production year 2009
Production country Finland
Running time 52 min


Direction Jouko Aaltonen (also scriptwriter)
Script Jouko Aaltonen / Seppo Sivonen
Cinematography Timo Peltonen
Sound design Martti Turunen
Composer Tapani Rinne
Editing Samu Heikkilä
Speaker Hannu-Pekka Björkman, Leea Klemola, Pertti Veijalainen
Musician (woodwind, keyboards &perc.) Tapani Rinne
Musician (harp) Iro Haarla
Musician (Ngoni) Zoumana Dembele
Musician (percussion) Teho Majamäki
Musician (electronic percussion) Juuso Hannukainen
Musician (programming) Tuomas Norvio
Music recording & mixing Pauli Saastamoinen
Image prosessing Hannele Kakkori
On-line-editing & color grading Ilmo Lintonen, Minus Movie
Production manager Arty Kosi, SUKA!
Production assistant Ella Ruohonen
Bookkeeper Ella Ruohonen

Screenings and awards


  • 10.04.2011 YLE TV2 (Documentary project)
  • 26.09.2010 YLE TV2 (Documentary project)
  • 22.09.2010 YLE TV2 (Documentary project)


  • 08.10.2010 Etnia Film Festival, Turku, Finland
  • 30.09.2010 Viscult 2010, Joensuu, Finland
  • 24.09.2010 Sardinia international ethnographic film festival
  • 01.09.2010 The 30th Nordic Anthropological Film Association (NAFA) International Film Festival
  • 30.01.2010 DocPoint - Helsinki Documentary Film Festival
  • 10.12.2009 DocLounge, Helsinki
  • 01.01.2009 Zoom sur Jouko Aaltonen 2009, Finnish Institute in Paris / France


  • Pertti Veijalainen, Illume Oy

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