Finnish director Katja Gauriloff won the grand prize at the Finnish Film Affair’s feature films in progress presentation this week for Je’vida, an intimate historical drama that is the first film ever shot in the Skolt Sámi language.
The film centers on Iida, an elderly Skolt Sámi woman who is about to sell her family’s old house and land while keeping her cultural heritage a secret from her niece. It is the story of a woman who gave up her past under the pressure of assimilation and weaves through three different historical eras to examine the fate of Finland’s indigenous peoples in the post-war period.
Je’vida is a deeply personal journey for Gauriloff, a Skolt Sami filmmaker who has spent her life anticipating the group’s struggle for survival since World War II, when most of her ancestral homeland was lost to Russia. “All people have been evacuated [modern-day] Finland,” said the director, whose mother was born in 1942 in the homeland of the Skolt Sami. “We lost our country. We have lost our identity. So I wanted to make a film about it.”
Achieving this has long been considered “an impossible task”. The Skolt Sami are part of the larger indigenous group of Sami people found in Norway, Sweden and Finland. Their language is believed to be spoken by only about 300 people in Finland.
Gauriloff did not learn her native language as a child, growing up in a small Finnish town. “I thought it was just my problem because I didn’t have that Sami community close by at the time,” she said. “But once I started to really explore my background and roots, I realized it’s not just my problem: It’s an entire generation.”
With a cast composed largely of non-professional indigenous actors, Je’vida was inspired by Gauriloff’s travels through the Samiland region and the stories the director heard from the women in her household as a child.
Speak with diversity this week in Helsinki, Gauriloff recalled a special story from her childhood. “When my mother was 8 or 9 years old, she practically lived with her grandparents and helped them a lot. Her grandfather didn’t let her go to boarding school; he didn’t want her to go anywhere to be “ruined.” But then grandpa suddenly died and she was heartbroken,” the director said.
It was winter when the family prepared the body for burial. One night Gauriloff’s mother snuck out of her room to see his body before it was buried. Years later, the director imagined what would have happened if she had discovered him alive. “That was the main idea of the film: a little girl having strange discussions with her late grandpa,” Gauriloff said. “It all started here.”
Je’vida is not the filmmaker’s first attempt to wrestle with the intersection between personal history and her people’s past: her latest documentary, Kaisa’s Enchanted Forest, tells the story of a foreign author’s lifelong fascination with an isolated Lappish country Race and Its Mythologies, which focuses on Gauriloff’s great-grandmother, a venerable storyteller in her remote arctic village. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2016 and was described by diversity as “simply delightful and distinctive enough to attract specialized attention beyond the festive circle”.
Je’vida was one of seven feature films in progress to be presented to an audience of industry guests in Helsinki on 22 September during the Finnish Film Affair’s presentation of local and regional projects. The film, currently in post-production, is being produced by Joonas Berghäll (Oktober), who has worked with Gauriloff for more than 20 years and has described her as “an amazing example” for the young Sámi, inspired by her career path. “I saw how young Sámi who want to be filmmakers look at Katja,” he said.
Gauriloff, in turn, draws inspiration from this. She studies Skolt Sami in part to “pass something on to my son,” whose generation has benefited from efforts to revitalize Sami culture. Still, maintaining a dying way of life is a struggle. “Things are getting better,” she said. “But we lost so much.”
https://variety.com/2022/film/global/jevida-finnish-film-affair-2-1235382548/ Katja Gauriloff from Finland on the shooting of the first Skolt Sámi film