Je’Vida and Shorts Break the Ice of Sámi Discrimination

This weekend, February 8th through 11th, marked the 6th Annual Sámi Film Festival, the fourth of which has been hosted by Scandinavia House in New York. Presented in partnership with the National Nordic Museum in Seattle, the festival highlights the stories and experiences of the Sámi communities in Scandinavia. 

I had the chance to ask about the creative process of this year’s guest curator, Liselotte Wajstedt, the director of the feature documentary short The Silence in Sápmi. This is what she had to say:

“When I am looking for a film that attracts me, the first thing I do is to decide a theme and then start to look for films that fit in that theme. This time I chose a theme close to what I am working with for the moment and a topic that is current in Sápmi: memories, heritage, and our nature. I am also looking for films with high artistic expression.”

These themes could not be embodied more than in the festival’s first day screening of Je’Vida (Katja Gauriloff, 2023). In addition, the second day contained an eclectic mix of eight short films over the course of two sessions. I had the privilege to witness both days of the festival in order to gain a greater scope of what the festival had to offer. 

You might remember the director, Katja Gauriloff, as the award winning filmmaker and last year’s festival curator. Her film Jussi, won the 2024 Best Documentary Film at the Finnish National Film Awards and she continues to create films based on her Sámi heritage and uplifting the previously silenced voices of the Sámi people.

“I chose a theme close to what I am working with for the moment and a topic that is current in Sápmi: memories, heritage, and our nature,” said guest curator Liselotte Wajstedt.

The flashbacks open on a blond-haired girl, Je’Vida, rowing with her grandfather. Their bond overcomes the loss of her grandfather when he suddenly collapses in the snow. Je’Vida loses her biggest supporter and confidante as her life changes forever.

When the colonizers arrive to “test” Je’Vida’s intelligence they show her a series of blocks and then ask her to replicate the pattern. Rather than follow the nonsensical instructions, she proceeds to construct intricate block sculptures of greater interest. Evaluating Je’Vida with poor marks, she is sent to a Finnish boarding school far from her family and traditional way of life. While at the school, Je’Vida is confronted with horrendous abuse at the hands of the school staff as well as exclusionary practices and discrimination by the other students.

When asked her name by one of the teachers, she replies, “Je’Vida.” Unsatisfied with this name, the colonizers changed her name to “Lida” meaning “hardworking woman” in Finnish. While Je’Vida grows up to be an incredibly hard working woman, in that moment she is stripped not only of her name, but also her Sámi cultural identity.

A particularly poignant scene involves Je’Vida in the forest alone. All around her fish start to fall from the sky. The camera zooms in on the fish gasping for air on the ground. Their gills futilely contract while their bodies writhe on the forest floor. This metaphor beautifully represents the “fish out of water” feeling for Je’Vida at the boarding school having to learn a new language, eat new foods, and sleep in less than comfortable quarters.

This year’s short films addressed poignant points of view, mostly noticeably, themes surrounding the stories of women and the challenges they face within themselves, interpersonally, and in community. The second day of the festival opened with Áfruvvá – Mermaid (Marja Helander, 2022), a futuristic short film following an aquatic being fueled by curiosity as they explore a world beyond the sea. 

Click image to enlarge.

I do not know the exact audience demographic of the Sámi festival, but I noticed that the audience in my general vicinity struggled with the particularly graphic or grotesque aspects of the films. Daughters of the Midnight Sun/Overlander (Ylva Floreman and Peter Östlund, 1985) highlighted the traditional process of “calfmarking” during the summer months, a crucial part of delineating which reindeer belong to whom. When one of the women discovers that one of the calves has a swollen leg, she calls for assistance to end its suffering.

At last year’s festival, Liselotte Wajstedt’s The Silence in Sápmi highlighted the abuse and post-traumatic symptoms in a feature documentary. This year, Njuokčamat/The Tongues (Marja Bål Nango and Ingir Ane Bål Nango, 2019), also grapples with sexual assault, justice, and the desire to protect the ones we love. I noticed audience members shielding their eyes and turning away from the screen as the protagonist took revenge on her perpetrator in a graphic way, dripping with symbolism.

Upon exiting the theater after the first session of shorts, I overheard a fellow festival goer refer to the subjects of the films as “Laplanders,” to Kyle Reinhart, Manager of Educational and Cultural Programs at Scandinavia House. Kyle was quick to correct the patron by calling out that that term is highly offensive and should not be repeated. While Lappland might be a term used in some of the films, this antiquated term has connotations of the people of the region being “uneducated” or “backwards.” Instead, the preferred phrase “Sápmi” should be used to refer to the northern region spanning Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.

In my own travels to the Norsk Folkemuseum in Oslo, Norway last year, only one exhibit focused on the Sámi people and the preservation of generations of traditions. 

Liselotte commented that her biggest takeaway of the festival was “the audience’s positive reactions.” She continued to say, “My aim was to entertain and at the same time show a wide range of Sápmi’s artistic expression. [The festival] has made me grow as an artist. I have discovered a new form of creativity within me and I would love to have more missions like this in the future.”

The histories and traditions of the Sámi people live on in these films and will carry on to do so as the festival continues its legacy. 

© Taylor Beckman (2/14/24) – Special for FF2 Media ®

LEARN MORE/DO MORE

View the full Sámi Film Festival lineup.

Watch Je’Vida’s trailer on YouTube.

Read an overview of the practice of Sámi children boarding schools.

Read Katja Gauriloff’s interview during last year’s Golden Globes.

For more coverage on the 2024 Sámi Festival, read a recent post from FF2 Media’s Taylor Beckman.

CREDITS & PERMISSIONS

Featured photo: Still from Je’Vida (Katja Gauriloff, 2023). Courtesy of Sámi Film Festival (with gratitude to Lori Fredrickson). All Rights Reserved.

Middle photo: Poster for Daughters of the Midnight Sun/Overlander (Ylva Floreman and Peter Östlund, 1985). Courtesy of Sámi Film Festival (with gratitude to Lori Fredrickson). All Rights Reserved.

Bottom photo: Still from Áfruvvá – Mermaid (Marja Helander, 2022). Courtesy of Sámi Film Festival (with gratitude to Lori Fredrickson). All Rights Reserved.



Tags: Finland, Je'Vida, Katja Gauriloff, Liselotte Wajstedt, National Nordic Museum, Norway, Sámi, Sámi Culture, Sámi Film Festival, Sámi Filmmakers, Sámi Women, Scandinavia, Scandinavia House, Taylor Beckman, The Silence in Sápmi

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Taylor Beckman (she/her/hers) is a sister, daughter, friend, avid baker, and adorer of Regency-era British television shows. After graduating from Muhlenberg College with degrees in both Psychology and Theatre (acting and directing concentrations), she flew to Europe where she performed as a theatre artist, teaching English in Belgium and France. Once she returned to the States, Taylor pursued a career in acting until the pandemic happened and she changed the trajectory of her life. Taylor is now a student at NYU getting her Masters in Drama Therapy where she hopes to combine her love for theater with the inherent therapeutic qualities that stories possess. When she isn't writing theatrical reviews or profile pieces for FF2, Taylor can be found drinking mint tea and reading a Charlotte Brontë novel. Thank you to Jan and the FF2 Media team for the opportunity to critically engage with people and the art form of performance.
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