With the beloved Canadian travel show Departures recently being added to the Netflix lineup many are planning their next summer vacation and audiences seeking travel inspiration are plentiful. Although Departures promotes the idea of tossing aside creature comforts in favour of adventure, a lesser-known show, Madventures, makes Departures look like Downton Abbey.
The Finnish travel show Madventures features two friends, Tuna and Riku, who escape the rat race and travel the world in search of the most bizarre and otherwise unknown traditions. Unlike most other travel shows, in Madventures the duo are aware of their own western prejudices and don’t judge or interfere with cultural practices they might not agree with. They photograph their own travels, which they often push to the limits by eating delicacies such as snake hearts and monkey brains and participating in ritual animal sacrifice.
The most powerful example of just how far the two are willing to go in the name of cultural exploration can be seen when Riku and Tuna encounter a strange Aghori sect in India. They take part in an unusual and unholy ritual wherein the Aghori become spellbound in a state of divine madness and proceed to drink their own urine and eat their own feces out of a human skull. However repulsive this may seem, Tuna and Riku remain resolute and continue as if it were just another day at the office. Things take a turn, however, when one of the entranced men bites the head off of a live chicken and, as its blood pouring out of its neck and its wings flap, gestures to Riku to drink it. When Riku responds with “I’m going to go for it!” it becomes easy to see how this travel show is different from all the rest. When cameraman and co-presenter Tuna pulls back to wipe the blood off the lens, the gravity of the situation is felt most as audiences come to the realization that it’s just the two of them in these crazy situations. With no crew for support, the show is as raw as the chicken blood cocktail Riku is offered to drink.
Beyond just the extreme nature of its content, Madventures redefines the travel show by being aware of the effect the filming process itself has on local behaviour. Unlike Departures (which features a skeleton crew of one cameraman and two presenters), Madventures has Tuna working both behind and in front of the camera. In addition to the tiny crew, the camera’s small profile gives a home video look to the production and, as a result, locals seem less intimidated and act more natural than if, say, Anthony Bourdain showed up with three boatloads of crew and equipment. This handheld approach recognizes the role of the filmmaker and gives viewers at home a greater sense of participation more than observation.