Sami Blood (Swedish: Sameblod) is a 2016 Swedish coming-of-age drama film written and directed by Amanda Kernell, as her feature film debut. The first 10 minutes of the film (and part of the end) comes directly from the short film Stoerre Vaerie (2015, dir. Amanda Kernell). Stoerre Vaerie is Kernell's first film with Sami themes and it was nominated for the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, USA.
|Directed by||Amanda Kernell|
|Produced by||Lars G. Lindström|
|Written by||Amanda Kernell|
|Starring||Lene Cecilia Sparrok |
|Music by||Kristian Eidnes Andersen|
|Cinematography||Sophia Olsson |
|Edited by||Anders Skov|
The film is set in Sweden in the 1930s and concerns a 14-year-old girl who experiences prejudice at a nomad school for Sami children, and decides to escape her town and disavow her Sami heritage. Parts of the story are inspired by Kernell's own grandmother.
The film premiered at the 73rd edition of the Venice Film Festival in the Venice Days section, in which it was awarded the Europa Cinemas Label Award and the Fedeora Award for Best Debut Director. It won the 2017 Lux Prize and was nominated for the 2017 Nordic Council Film Prize.
In the present day, 78-year-old Elle-Marja (who calls herself Christina, these days) returns with her son, Olle, and granddaughter Sanna, to Lapland, and her childhood society, to attend her younger sister's funeral. Elle-Marja doesn't want to be there. She does not like the Sami people, calls them thieves and liars, and even though her first language is Southern Sami, refuses to speak it and pretends to not understand it. She even refuses to spend the night at her late sister's family home and would rather check into a hotel. (This part of Sami Blood is taken directly from Stoerre Vaerie.)
In the 1930s, 14-year-old Elle-Marja is sent with her younger sister Njenna to the nomad school. It is a boarding school for Sami children where a blonde teacher from Småland teaches them Swedish, and to know their place. Speaking Sami, even just among themselves outside of the classroom, results in beatings. Her feeling of alienation is only intensified when scientists from the State Institute for Racial Biology in Uppsala came to the school to measure and photograph the class naked in the presence of each other, teachers and neighbourhood boys.
After threatening a group of boys with her father's old knife because they called her racist names and slurs, they nick the edge of her ear like the Sami people do with reindeer. She changes out of her gaeptie (also called gapta, gåptoe depending on the Southern Sámi dialect) and takes one of her teacher's dresses from a clothes line.
A group of young soldiers pass her on their way to a dance and asks her to come along—it is the first time anyone who is not Sami has treated her like a human being. Elle-Marja sneaks off to the dance, and for a couple of hours she gets to experience how it feels to have the respect of others and be treated with decency by them without question. That is when she decides that she will leave Lapland, go to Uppsala, and study at the university.
School staff remove her from the dance and she is given a spanking with a switch. The school refuse her request to advance her studies in Uppsala, because the curriculum for the Sami is different from that in other Swedish schools and they feel that the Sami could not cope with urban society. She runs away to town, steals some clothes and burns her gaeptie, and invites herself to stay with Niklas, whom she met at the dance. His parents ask her to leave and he will not lend her the money she needs for her school fees, forcing her to go home. Eventually, her mother gives her the money to continue her schooling.
At the end of the film, she apologises to her dead sister for leaving her culture and people.
During the nineteenth century, Sámis were portrayed as savages through “Swedish” eyes in lots of film productions. At that time, Swedish society at large established Sámis as being inferior, less intelligent, and unable to survive in a civilized city. On one hand, they constantly tried to assimilate Sámi people. On the other hand, they believed Sámis should be segregated and remain in their traditional way of life, so they never stop emphasizing the difference between them.
According to Monica Kim Mecsei, the past decades have witnessed the change of the depiction of Sámi culture in cinema, from an outsider perspective to an insider one. Sami Blood is exactly the example. It focuses on the youth of a Sámi girl Elle Marja (the other) and narrates her story of becoming someone else. Facing racism, some choose to isolate themselves in their own culture, while some choose to get into the main majority. Elle-Marja and her sister Njenna are in the same situation, but they make completely different choices. Elle-Marja desires to pass herself off as a “normal Swede” while Njenna is proud of her Sámi blood, refusing to make any changes. They are two typical attitudes toward the new culture. To be isolated, or to be assimilated? Sami Blood doesn't make value judgments on the options, but just presents the phenomenon to the audience. Neither of them is wrong or right. Young indigenous people face a self-identity crisis which was, is, and can be a universal problem all over the world. The story depicts the self-identity crisis of one Sámi girl, but more than that, it also focused on the dilemma among Sámi people. Thus, Sami Blood is supposed to be an important part of Sámi cinema in Swedish film history.
According to Mescei, a certain Sámi iconography has been created since Sámi people first appeared on the screen in 1947. Sámis were associated with mountain highlands, hunting, gathering, reindeers, and nomadism. The Sámi people were represented with Sámi tents, turf huts, the colorful traditional costumes and skiers in snow-covered landscapes. This iconography was created to define Sámi culture in general and it was often used with an imperialistic and touristic gaze on Sámi culture. This reinforces a certain stereotype of the Sámi people. The Sámi people have stereotypically been portrayed and othered as savages on the one hand who are barbaric and demonic in contrast to the Swedish or Norwegian people. On the other hand, they have been seen as the noble savages who live homogenously with nature, creating a romantic idea of Sámi identity. Sami Blood uses this Sámi iconography, not as a spectacle, but as an active part of the narrative. This is also an example of the inside perspective this film has on Sámi culture.
- Lene Cecilia Sparrok – Elle-Marja (young)
- Maj-Doris Rimpi – Elle-Marja (old)
- Mia Sparrok – Njenna
- Olle Sarri – Olle
- Anne Biret Somby – Sanna
- Hanna Alström – The Teacher
- Anders Berg – Emanuel
- Katarina Blind – Mother Anna
- Beata Cavallin – Hedda
- Malin Crépin – Elise
- Julius Fleischanderl – Niklas
- Ylva Gustafsson – Laevie
- Tom Kappfjell – Aajja
- Anna Sofie Bull Kuhmunen – Anna-Stina
- Andreas Kundler – Gustav
Sami Blood is the first feature fiction film to have received funding from the International Sámi Film Institute. Evolving out of a short made by Kernell that was screened at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival, the film was shot partly in Tärnaby-Hemavan, in northern Sweden, and partly in Uppsala and Stockholm.
Amanda Kernell, the director of Sami blood who have Sami father and Swedish mother, mentioned, in an interview, that although the film is about 1930’s Swedish society, she did not want to make it just a historical film which shows faked reality but wanted it to be authentic and communicate real feeling. She cared much about every detail in producing it such as shooting locations and casting. According to her interview, the girl acting as Elle-Marjar is true Sami girl who does reindeer herding in her life. Besides, some stories in the film were based on real experiences she had before or real anecdote she heard from her family and Sami people through interviews. By the use of her own identity and materials she can reach, Amanda achieved representing nuanced negative atmosphere flowing between the dominating and the dominated in 1930’s Swedish society.
Sami Blood won the top prize at the 2017 Göteborg Film Festival, the Dragon Award Best Nordic Film. A prize of one million Swedish kronor (approximately US$114,000), it is one of the world's largest film prizes. In addition, Sophia Olsson won the Sven Nykvist Cinematography Award for the film.
At the Tokyo International Film Festival, Sami Blood won second prize in the juried competition, and Lene Cecilia Sparrok won the best actress award. Sparrok (a teenage reindeer herder in real life) gave her acceptance speech in Sami.
At the Venice Film Festival, the film played in the Venice Days section and won the Fedeora Award for Best Young Director and the Europa Cinemas Label (for best European film in Venice Days).
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