"Sámi Film Festival": An Exploration of the Sámi Female Experience
Review of Sámi Film Festival at National Nordic Museum
Written by Teen Writer Olivia Lee and edited by Esha Potharaju
Content warning: sexual assault and death
The Sámi Film Festival is an exciting showcase of female focused films at the Seattle Nordic Museum. As this is TeenTix’s first act of new partnership with the Seattle Nordic Museum, this is a very special event! Honoring the work of Sámi female directors, the films reflect on difficult topics like sexual assault and violence against Indigenous women. Through an intriguing selection of nine documentary and fictional films, there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy at the Sámi Film Festival.
Breathe Me Back To Life
Breathe Me Back To Life tells the powerful story of director Sunna Nousuniemi as she grapples with the aftermath of a sexual assault. She reveals in the film that it took her four years to report the crime. Her fear of being shamed by everyone she knows held her back from telling anyone and she felt that it would be best to continue living, pretending like it never happened. But the longer she stays silent, the worse she feels. With the help of her friends and family, she finds the strength to pursue legal action against her assailant and find comfort in her life again.
The film also documents a crafting project. Sunna’s friend is making her a Ládojogahpir, a traditional Sámi hat that resembles the same elegance as a royal crown. Through the Ládojogahpir, Sunna begins to feel connected to herself and finds healing within her culture.
In the film’s most vulnerable moments, we see the true effects trauma and sexual assault have had on Sunna. They are powerful and bring attention to the importance of the pain sexual assault victims face.
A horror short film directed by Inga Elin Marakatt, Unborn Biru is the story of a pregnant widow who steals a silver brooch in order to provide food for her starving daughter. She soon finds out that the silver is not what it seems and brings dark and chaotic repercussions.
The Unborn Biru story didn’t develop as well as it could have and the conflict didn’t have adequate emphasis placed on it. The woman and her starving child are portrayed as characters you should feel sympathy for; however, because there isn’t enough screen time to establish why the audience should care about them and what they’re going through, I ended up feeling indifferent to their predicament. The brooch begins to make the young girl behave peculiarly but it’s not frightening enough because her actions aren’t extremely abnormal. She doesn’t act possessed or have violent outbursts, like most children in horror films do. She just becomes more observant and quiet which could be unsettling if properly executed. This could be seen as the “scary” turning point of the film but since the whole story is pretty one-note, this observation holds little meaning.
I was hoping Unborn Biru could deliver an unsettling and creepy ending, but unfortunately it didn’t for me. The woman’s “cursed punishment” wasn’t severe or memorable enough to drive home the message of how every bad action will have its consequences. I wish the script allowed more room for plot and character development as well as more visceral visuals.
Sire and the Last Summer
Sire and the Last Summer is a short film directed by Liselotte Wajstedt that follows the final days of her pregnant great-grandmother, Sire, during her time living in the mountains. Sire suffocated to death by a goiter in 1916, and through this film, we get to listen to her last introspective moments on life and death.
The film’s artistic sensibility is due to the occasional shots of nature as Sire narrates her deepest thoughts. I could connect with Sire during these scenes because I felt her anguish and fear. “I don’t know the difference between memory and present anymore,” she says solemnly. The physical pain she experiences coupled with the emotional torment of death wraps around her, threatening to crush her before her goiter does. But she never allows that to happen. Instead, she lets the little things in her life fill her with joy, from the grass between her toes to the animal pelts she sleeps under.
Sire’s deep introspection is accomplished through the poignant script. The writers managed to create meaningful reflections on life and death without coming off as cliche or overused. The cinematographic shots of nature stimulated my senses and helped me feel like I was with Sire, enjoying the Earth’s beauty one last time. As the film progresses, her condition gets worse. In her final scene, Sire’s ragged breathing is steady and rhythmic, providing an unsettling metronome to keep the scene’s pace. She knows she’s met her end, but up until her death, Sire has invited us into her humble, small world and showed us how precious every moment is. It’s something we should all remember. “I am not afraid,” she whispers as her final seconds pass. And in that moment, neither are we.
Even though not all of the films stood out to me, something audiences will enjoy from the three movies are the cinematographic shots of the Sámi environment. The icy, harsh, yet intimate surroundings give the Sámi people identity. From the scenic river in Breathe Me Back To Life, to the open, dreamy fields of Sire and the Last Summer, to the darkly atmospheric arctic plains of Unborn Biru, the audience will understand how nature connects to Sámi culture. Another unique aspect to the films is the Sámi language. The melodic, almost romantic, nature of the language helped pace the films. Its calm and flowing nature kept the rhythm during the slower parts of the films. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, it was super calming to just listen along. The movies in the Sámi Film Festival explore stories of an Indigenous group of people that not many here in Seattle have heard of, in a rich, beautiful way that will make you want to learn anything and everything about their culture.
Sámi Film Festival took place at National Nordic Museum on February 9 - 12, 2023. For more information see here.