Film Review- Finnish Exposure: Films from the Arctic

The CCA’s Finnish Exposure: Films from the Arctic screening began with breath-taking Finnish scenery and a pair of young ballerinas dancing in the midst of nature. Katja Gauriloff’s short film Birds in the Earth (2018) formed the first part of the screening. The ballerinas, seemingly out of place in the scenery, start their dance in Lapland, northern Finland. Despite having seen the ten-minute long film previously in Kiasma, an Helsinki art museum, I found it as impactful as if I had seen it for the first time. If the audience was not mesmerised by the dancers and the snowy backdrop, goose bumps are guaranteed when the ballerinas’ attire suddenly transform into the traditional cultural costume of the Sámi people, and the music changes from being calm and slow to drum-dominated folk. The ballerinas soon dance on the empty streets of Finland’s capital
Helsinki and symbolically end their dance in front of the Parliament House. The choreography is not only performed but also created by the twin ballet dancers, who are dance students from the Sámi community.

Gauriloff’s film was followed by Marja Helander’s documentary Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest (2016), which recounts the life of an elderly woman belonging to the northern minority Skolt Sámi. The documentary is made especially interesting by the life and style of its narrator. It is based on the experiences of Swiss author Robert Crottet, who feels the calling to go north and finds the Skolt Sámi there, who welcome him into their community with open arms. The film depicts Crottet’s experiences in multiple countries. He spends the first half of his life in Switzerland, then in Finland and briefly in Britain during the Second World War, before returning to Finland. The narrator specifically focuses on Kaisa’s talent for storytelling, and her story about the creation of the northern lights runs throughout the film alongside illustrations of the story’s events. Crottet’s poetic descriptions of Finnish nature are closely tied to Kaisa’s stories and result in beautiful accounts of his surroundings. Predominantly narrated in French, the film touches upon the role played by Britain in raising money to restore the Skolt Sámi people’s means of livelihood following the destruction they experienced during the Lapland War (1944-5). Regardless of the money raised by Crottet, the Skolt Sámi were displaced as a consequence of the war, and struggled to regain their livelihood. The film, in the end, is about the loss of significant parts of a culture and ends on a melancholic note.

Despite being Finnish myself, I found these films different from what I am used to. Having grown up in the south of the country, I have never truly experienced exposure to the Sámi cultures, let alone the Skolt Sámi. While the scenery in both films reminded me of home, the history, culture and the sufferings of the Sámi were largely unfamiliar to me due to the lack of exposure to them in the every-day life of a southern Finn. Even today, the Sámi people continue to fight for their rights in areas of representation and recognition and for the preservation of their languages and cultures. The documentary offers a historical account of the lives of the Skolt Sámi while the short film can be seen as more of an artistic plea for recognition. Yet both films ultimately address the position of the Sámi in modern-day Finland and call for greater attention to the so-often
disregarded minorities.

[Kristiina Kangasluoma – she/her – @overthefrogwall]

[Photo credit:]

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