Must-watch Mondays: Sami cinema

Must-watch Mondays

The top three films you should be watching this week

This week: Sami cinema

Framegrab 6 fotograf Petrus Sjövik copy

This week we are looking to the far north and visiting Sami cinema. Despite the discrimination and segregation of the Sami people and their cultural identity – an ongoing issue for several centuries – over the last few decades the production of feature films and documentaries has shown a new, powerful way for indigenous people across the globe to find their voice and gradually begin to revive their cultural heritage.

At the largest and one of the most popular indigenous festivals in the world, ImagiNATIVE and Media art held in Toronto, Canada, as well as at the Sami Film Festival in Guovdageaidnu, Norway with its unique snowmobile drive-in, and at Riddu Riddu Festival (literally meaning ‘Little storm by the coast’ in North Sami language), year after year an increasing number of pieces of Sami cinema are given the chance to provide an insight into the cultural treasures, everyday life and the past of the Sami minority living in an area called Sápmi that encompasses the Northern parts of Europe in Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. Many of the themes of these indigenous films are strongly connected to past conflicts, intending to rectify the neglect of the rights and culture of aboriginal communities by the dominant society.

Here are the three Sami films you should see:


1. The Kautokeino Rebellion

Religious and cultural reawakening inspires rebellion in a 19th century Norwegian village. IMDb

Perhaps one of the most powerful works in the history of Sami filmmaking, The Kautokeino Rebellion (Norwegian: Kautokeino-opprøret, Northern Sami: Guovdageainnu Stuimmit), directed by leading Sámi filmmaker Nils Gaup, with the music of Sami composer Marie Boine, adapts the true story of the fatal riots in 1852 in Kautokeino, Norway, where a group of Sámi reindeer herders killed the chief of police and the local merchant as a response to the exploitation of the Sami people. The tragic event may be the most traumatic one in the modern history of the indigenous population of Sámi in Norway, and while dominant interpretations mostly condemned the Sámi involved, Gaup’s film explores a different perspective of the incident. 

2. Pathfinder

Around the year 1000 AD warlike people, the so-called “tjuder”, roam in northern Scandinavia. As they brutally kill a family in a remote area, including the parents and their little daughter, the families teenage son, Aigin, observes the slaughter. He manages to flee from these killers and reaches a camp with other Lapps whose inhabitants are worried if he has been able to hide his track. Afraid of the murderous people, they decide to flee to the coast. The boy stays alone to avenge his families murder. Unfortunately, they get him before he can do anything and force him to lead them to the other Lapps. He guides them but has a plan to destroy the barbarous people before reaching the camp. – IMDb

In Pathfinder (original title in Sami: Ofelaš and in Norwegian: Veiviseren), in this popular Norwegian action-adventure film from 1987, written and directed by Sami director Nils Gaup, viewers encounter a story based on an ancient Sami legend. It belongs to the film’s uniqueness that it proved to be the first full-length film in Sami and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1988. The film piece starred Kjetil Bjerkestrand, Marius Müller and Nils-Aslak Valkeapää who also wrote the music to the film.

3.Give Us Our Skeletons!

Give Us Our Skeletons! (Antakaa Meille Luurankomme in Finnish, Oaivveskaldjut in North Sami) is a 1999documentary film directed by Paul-Anders Simma about Niillas Somby, a Sami man who retraces his family ancestry as he searches for the head of his ancestor, Mons Somby. Mons Aslaksen Somby and Aslak Jakobsen Hætta were executed by decapitation on 14 October 1854 for murder, following a rebellion against the Norwegian government in which two people were murdered. Their heads were claimed by the government for scientific research, and were held as part of a collection of 900 skulls at the Anatomical Institute, in Oslo. The movie describes three parallel plots; the first is Niillas Somby’s story on how he became one of the most celebrated protesters during the Alta Dam Protests between 1979-1981 near Kautokeino, Norway. In the years that followed, he traveled in exile to Canada where he was given sanctuary by the Iroquois First Nation, and later returned to Norway. – Wikipedia

Give Us Our Skeletons! (Antakaa Meille Luurankomme in Finnish, Oaivveskaldjut in North Sami) is a documentary film directed in 1999 by Paul-Anders Simma about Niillas Somby, a Sami man who tries to retrace his family ancestry as he is looking for one of his ancestors, Mons Somby.    


We talk to one of those behind the Sami Film Institute in our new magazine. We discuss what makes Sami cinema so unique, film funding initiatives, and the rising success of Sami cinema. Pre-order here

Read our overview of the history of the Sami people here

CategoriesFinland Norway
Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.