Jere Karalahti, the “bad boy” of ice hockey, gets the last word in an upcoming documentary
by Marta Bałaga
- The controversial player will reveal all in Juuso Syrjä’s film, which hopes to put Dennis Rodman to shame
Jere Karalahti, now blissfully retired, has long been referred to as “the only prominent Finnish ice hockey player ever arrested for drugs”. During a career that has taken him to the Los Angeles Kings, Nashville Predators and HC Dinamo Minsk, his personal indiscretions generated just as many headlines as his successes, culminating in his arrest in 1996 – all the more scandalous given that his father was a police inspector. “Jere has been in the public eye all his life,” admits director Juuso Syrjä, previously behind Netflix’s Bordertown, of which he directed a whopping 21 episodes. “Mostly because with him, it’s wasn’t just about sports. There are so many A-class athletes who deliver, and yet people are more interested in the ‘bad boys’. And that’s just one of his faces.”
It doesn’t take long to find stories about Karalahti that make even the Dennis Rodman revelations from The Last Dance pale in comparison. As reported by Sports Illustrated, in 1995, he went AWOL on arrival in Canada. “He had met some Native Americans in a bar, and they’d invited him to their reservation to get high. Karalahti went on a mind-altering binge, spending close to 48 hours drinking and smoking various drugs with his new friends,” went the account. But in the documentary, which bears the working title of Jere Karalahti and is currently filming, Syrjä doesn’t want to duplicate tabloid headlines, however juicy they may be. “Instead of repeating the same stories, we try to understand why the press has been after him for so long, the reasons behind this interest in ‘fallen angels’ and his behaviour. Jere is loud, and he has always been the one talking. Now, we are trying to listen to other voices as well.”
Indeed – although Karalahti decided to participate in the film, he will be just one of the many, with the crew talking to his ex-teammates, coaches, family members, doctors treating people with drug dependency, and even academic media researchers. “We have done the first interviews with him, to hear where he is coming from. But he wasn’t involved when we decided whom we were going to interview,” clarifies Syrjä. “He gave us his blessing to cover everything, however nasty or painful. People would always question that, so we shot a video of him saying it.”
“He doesn’t know exactly what we are doing,” underlines producer Rimbo Salomaa. “Or what the final version will look like.”
Although, as proven by the Netflix hit, sports-related documentaries seem to be bigger than ever, some are still just for the fans. But the team has confidence in the film’s prospects. “We want it to travel,” assures Salomaa, underlining that Karalahti’s fanbase can also be found in Germany, the USA, Sweden and Belarus. “We know that football and Maradona are bigger than ice hockey and Jere, but what sets us apart is that these stories usually end badly: someone dies or ends up in jail. Jere is 45 now and as fit as ever, and he is the co-owner of a kindergarten specialising in sports. Whatever he does, he goes to the edge. If he is fit, he is super fit. If he took drugs, he took more than anyone else.”
With more shooting days scheduled in other countries as well, the film, eyeing a January 2021 premiere, is just the beginning – to be followed by a four-episode series slated to air in May, just in time for the IIHF World Championship. “Our editor is so happy that we are also doing a series – there is just so much material!” admits Juuso Syrjä. “Jere still wants to be the hero – he wants to be calling the shots. At the same time, he wants to take all that has happened and address it for the last time, so that we can finally stop talking about it!” he says. “Everyone expected him to die so many times – at one point, we was even in a coma. What people can learn from his story is that you just can’t give up. Even when everything is against you.”
Produced by Finland’s Solar Films, the movie is being financed be Cmore, MTV and Nordisk Film, which is also the distributor in Finland. As stated above, the theatrical premiere is scheduled for January 2021, while the series will air in May that year.
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