Mikkel Gaup in Pathfinder, the film that trailblazed a path for a new generation of Sámi filmmakers to explore reconciliation and healing. | Image Source: mubi.com
imagineNATIVE kicks off today Wednesday October 14 and goes until Sunday, October 18, 2015 with an Indigenous spotlight on the Sámi culture
Since time immemorial the Sámi people have occupied the northern portion of Europe, known as the Sápmi region where today Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Kola Peninsula lie. Sámi culture is rich in the oral storytelling tradition: there’s yoiking- a distinctive form of singing; duodji- a unique style of hand craft art; and gakti- traditional clothing. Like Indigenous cultures in Turtle Island and throughout the world, the Sámi culture has survived a period of colonization as the Swedish crown claimed the Sápmi region ‘as their own land’. Today the Sámi are negotiating a period of reconciliation and reclaiming and revitalising cultural identity.
Part of reconciliation involves the telling of their own stories through filmmaking without any of the accompanying negative stereotypes often faced by Indigenous people. In 1987, Pathfinder, the first film made by a Sámi film director in the Sámi language was met with critical success garnering a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination. Pathfinder rushed in an expanded view of Nordic Indigenous cinema and a new generation of Sámi filmmakers.
Since 2009, the International Sámi Film Institute has assisted in the funding and creation of Sámi films under the direction of Anne Lajla Utsi. Anne has been active in the Indigenous film industry creating documentaries, feature films, television productions and directing the Sámi Nordic Film Festival. This week Anne will be hosting the Sámi Spotlight Indigi Talks along with Jorma Lehtola, Artistic Director of the Skábmagovat Film Festival on Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 10:30 am.
Erica Commanda from MUSKRAT Magazine caught up with Anne Lajla Utsi before her busy week at imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival to discuss the role filmmaking has in Sámi culture.
MM: Acknowledging that Indigenous people in Northern Europe have also faced a silencing of cultural identity due to the impacts of colonization, does filmmaking and cinema have a role in the healing process?
ALU: I think cinema is one of the most important mediums for all Indigenous peoples and also for the Sámi people, because we need to define our own reality. I think film has a deep effect on so many levels, not just for our own people but also when it comes to mainstream society. Indigenous people do need film more than anyone else, because it is about time our languages and cultures get a chance to break out from the silence, prejudice and invisibility we have experienced throughout time.
It is about healing, talking about sorrow, forgiveness and moving on into the future. It’s about being strong and visible with all of the wonderful stories and pride we have carried through thousands of years in our oral storytelling. We need to tell our stories because we need to be visible and exist.
MM: What inspired you to get into film production?
ALU: I have always been interested in expressing myself through art, especially through writing; but I found it too narrow and wanted a medium where I can tell stories to a bigger audience. Film is such a powerful medium, it combines so many art forms, and it crosses language and cultural borders.
MM: Since the successful premiere of Pathfinder, how has filmmaking in Sápmi evolved?
ALU: I was 14 years old when the Pathfinder premiered at the cultural house in Kautokeino. My cousin and I dressed ourselves in gakti, traditional Sámi clothing. Director, Nils Gaup, and main actor, Mikkel Gaup, were also present. For the first time we saw a movie that our language and people appeared in, and on such a big screen. I can still recall the feeling of pride and excitement. After the screening the local newspaper wanted a picture of Mikkel Gaup. It was the first time we had a Sámi moviestar. It was like a dream. We were so full of admiration as only a 14 year old can be.
This film was also nominated for an Oscar and changed the mentality in the Nordic film industry, everyone saw the potential that a Sámi story can have and how far it can travel. Nils Gaup was and still is a pathfinder for all of the Sámi filmmakers who will come after him. With the establishment of our own festivals such as Skábmagovat and the International Sámi Film Institute, Sámi film production has sped up with around 30 new Sámi films that have been made since.
MM: What struggles do Indigenous filmmakers face in Northern Europe?
ALU: We are still struggling with financing. We need funding for feature length and TV series and we need to manage this funding ourselves. This is the only way authentic Sámi films can be born.
MM: Who are your favourite Indigenous filmmakers?
ALU: I have many because there are so many talented Indigenous filmmakers all around the world. I admire the work of Zacharias Kunuk, Nils Gaup, Rachel Perkins, Warwick Thornton, Alanis Obomsawin. I do think there is something quite unique about Taika Waititi from Aotearoa. He is just an amazing filmmaker in such a laid back way, it is impossible not to be deeply affected by his films, whether it is What We Do In The Shadows or Boy.
MM: You will be hosting the Sámi IndigiTALKS this Thursday, what do you hope the audience takes away from the presentation?
ALU: I hope we manage to give the audience a picture of our situation in Sápmi when it comes to filmmaking and touch base on an issue many Indigenous peoples can relate to: Indigenous people claiming the right to define our own reality through film.
Anne Lajla Utsi (Sámi) has been managing director at the International Sámi film Institute since 2009. She was educated at Lillehammer University College, Norway, in documentary directing. She has worked with documentaries, feature films, TV productions and film festivals in the Indigenous cinema industry since graduation from film school.