Goteborg, Sweden– Dome Karukoski’s “Tom of Finland,” a biopic about Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, a pioneering figure in late 20th-century gay culture, was received with a rowdy ovation on opening night at the 40th Goteborg Film Festival.

“Tom of Finland” chronicles the life of Laaksonen (played by Pekka Strang, “Colorado Avenue”), a pioneering artist whose work allowed him and many gays around the world to overcome homophobia and break free from oppression. The movie sheds light on Laaksonen’s conservative upbringing and depicts his life before he became a world-known artist, notably his time in the Finnish army during WWII and close relationship with his sister in Finland, where homosexuality was considered a crime from 1894 to 1971.

The film was introduced by Goteborg Film Festival’s Jonas Holmberg with a politically-minded speech. “We need to reclaim the alternative from the hate preachers. For 40 years, Göteborg Film Festival has been an alternative to the dominant film culture, has screened alternative films, films that otherwise would never have reached an audience in Sweden.”

“The festival has presented filmmakers with alternative views of the world, with a diversity of perspectives. Without this kind of alternatives, the world would be bleak and boring,” added Holmberg, who called “Tom of Finland” a “magnificent, beautiful and thought-provoking film about a fascinating artist and a dramatic life.”

Karukoski, whose previous film “Heart of a Lion” premiered at Toronto, also came on stage with his co-writer and producer Aleksi Bardy, as well as Strang and Annika Sucksdorff, producer and CEO of Helsinki Filmi.

The director stressed the contemporary resonance of “Tom of Finland” and argued that more than ever people across the globe needed to keep their minds open and advocate the kind of freedom that Laaksonen brought through his work “so that we don’t go back to the dark ages,” the filmmaker said on stage in Goteborg.

“Tom of Finland” is set for a theatrical rollout across the Nordics in Feburary. Protagonist Pictures is handling worldwide sales.