PARK CITY, UTAH – After making short films for a decade, director Amanda Kernell has created a dark view of Swedish colonial history and discrimination in her feature debut, "Sámi Blood," an award winner acclaimed at film festivals worldwide, with Kernell winning the best young director prize at the 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Set in the early 1930s, her film follows a teenage girl who hopes to leave behind her family's reindeer herd, master the Swedish language and culture, perhaps change her name, and climb aboard the sophisticated life of prosperity offered by the big cities to the south. How she reacts to the rude awakening that transition imposes on her — challenging questions of blood ties, heritage, shame and life-altering choices — is the focus of this impressive film.
Kernell, 30, who has a Swedish mother and a Sámi father, appeared for the film's North American premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in January.
"This is the first film to be sponsored by the International Sámi Film Institute," she said. That support allowed it to address issues that had not been explored fictionally before, including whether one can "really become someone else, or do you still remain the same old person inside?"
She was grateful for being able to attend the Danish Film School in Copenhagen, she said, an option not available in her grandparents' generation, when the Sámi people were considered "a step lower in evolution."
"I probably wouldn't have been able to go there two generations back. Because of colonization, we couldn't get into the Swedish school system.
"I wanted to make a declaration about that generation, those who left and those who stayed — what happens to you as you're cut off from your family, background, your history, your language and your culture."
With as few as 500 Sámi speakers remaining (many of them among the film's cast and crew), it is considered one of the most endangered languages currently in use. "We don't speak it at home," she said. "We text message sometimes."
The film was challenging logistically and creatively. Shooting on mountainous locations near the Arctic Circle meant dealing with "all these uncontrollable elements. Weather and dogs, mosquitoes, a lot of reindeer on set," a cast including many children, nonprofessional actors and elders. "Everything was difficult because we did everything they say you shouldn't do."
Her aim was to capture the awkward situations developing between family members with different attitudes toward their historical roots.
"Sámi Blood" parallels with the experiences of Kernell's grandparents' time, "which is unknown to my generation, because it's two generations away."
She continued, "In my family there are some elders who strongly reject Sámi people. They want nothing to do with them. Still, I've always known that they are Sámi themselves, that Sámi was their first and only language. Now they have other names and other lives, and we can't talk about it [their background].
"In other parts of my family, the tradition and history and craftsmanship and culture, all that is very important. Your mother tongue is your emotional language, the language of your heart."
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186