Earth Day in Focus:

Arctic Indigenous Films

Filmmakers Hans Pieski, Nyla Innuksuk, Elle Márjá Eira, Anna Hoover, Ken Are Bongo. ©Academy Museum Foundation, Photo by: Michelle Mosqueda

This week The Academy Museum Motion Pictures in Los Angeles has been filled with stories from Arctic Indigenous filmmakers during Earth Day in focus: Arctic Indigenous Films, April 21.-22.

The two day program featured films by Nyla Innuksuk (Slash/Back), Anna Hoover (Salmon Reflections), Ken Are Bongo and Joar Nango (trembling floors), Hans Pieski (The Past and the Future of the Arctic), Suvi West and Anssi Kömi (Under Two Skies), Elle Márjá Eira (Ealát) and Svetlana Romanova (Hinkelten). The screenings were followed by conversations with the filmmakers.

©Academy Museum Foundation, Photo by: Michelle Mosqueda

Anne Lajla Utsi, CEO of the International Sámi Film Institute, delivered an inspiring introduction to the program. Read the entire introduction below. Emphasizing the significance of Indigenous voices in cinema, Utsi highlights the importan support for Indigenous filmmakers.


The first day of the event featured a screening of Nyla Innuksuk’s “Slash/back,” followed by a talk with Nyla Innuksuk and Anne Lajla Utsi. The following day featured screenings of Anna Hoovers Salmon Reflections, Ken Are Bongos trembling floors, Hans Pieski The Past and the Future of the Arctic, Suvi West Under Two Skies, Elle Márjá Eira Ealát and Svetlana Romanova Hinkelten.

Introduction by Anne Lajla Utsi at the Academy Museum

Ráhkis guossit,Ladies and gentlemen

Esteemed guests, and fellow storytellers. Giitu, thank you all for being here with us today, your precense means the world to us.

I was 14 years old, it was in 1987, Sámi director Nils Gaup’s Academy-nominated film Pathfinder premiered at the cultural house in our little village Guovdageaidnu, on the Arctic tundra in Sápmi, Norway. My cousin and I dressed up in our gáktis (traditional Sámi dress), with our 80is hair styles and went to the screening. The cinema was full of people wearing gáktis and even the director Nils Gaup and the lead actor Mikkel Gaup were sitting in the middle of the audience.

I remember the film started and the main character, Áigin, was sliding down the white tundra slopes in traditional Sámi winter clothing, a fur of reindeerskin; while Áillohaš (the great Sámi artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää) was joiking a traditional Sámi song. I remember the intense feeling of seeing my people – and myself – for the first time on a giant cinema screen. And how cinema changed our lives at that moment. I remember Áigin’s blue eyes of course; This was us! Our people, and our language! After the screening the local newspaper wanted a picture of me, my cousin and our new film star Mikkel Gaup. We had stars in our eyes and our hearts were pounding. We were after all only 14 years old.

Pathfinder had such an impact on us as young Sámi people that we all seemed to be changed after seeing it. We had never seen a Sámi film in the cinema before. We had a new pride and admiration for our language, culture and our people.

It is a powerful statement to lift our stories – Indigenous stories – onto big cinema screens. Because of our common experiences with colonization, and reclamation, Indigenous films spring from an urge to express and safeguard our people, land, cultures and languages. Indigenous stories can inspire world audiences to a more sustainable way of life, and our close connection to nature can teach what the modern western world seems to have forgotten. We humans are nature and we still communicate with nature through our stories.

The new generation of Indigenous film is built on resistance. It is about us telling our own stories; defining our reality through film; defining our freedom of thought; our retelling of the colonial narratives; our breaking of the wrong images of our peoples. This urge and resistance and the constant fight is also fuel for a creative powerhouse.

We Indigenous peoples have strong voices; we need to be visible and manifest to others and ourselves that we exist. Film and audiovisual media arts are new forms of Indigenous storytelling where our voices are being raised. Nothing about us without us.

Indigenous peoples in the Arctic have survived harsh conditions over millenia, and our cultures have been based on oral storytelling. Storytelling has always been our survival tool. For Sámi people, knowledge about the best hunting places, where to find reindeer grazing pastures and how to read tand coomunicate with the landscape and nature have been fundamental to our existence.

Our ancestors told stories to survive, to navigate in the cold, to protect their children, to find their way back home. In our culture, our story characters are still a living part of our reality. We have underground people who protect us and give us advice; in the mountains, we can still talk with nature through sacrifices to our sacred spirits; and with stories, we warn our children not to play alone by the river, because čázirávga, the water monster, may take you.
Through our stories nature becomes alive.

These living storytelling traditions, in Sámi and other Indigenous cultures, tell us about the importance of stories in our daily lives. They have not been a means of entertainment alone, but important to birget, teach, guide us and help us survive.

The International Sami Film Institute has since our establishment in 2009, supported a new generation of Sámi and other Arctic Indigenous filmmakers. Our filmmakers have entered the global film scene with award-winning films.

The new generation of Indigenous filmmakers in the arctic create testimonies of contemporary Indigenous lives. It is important to not tell only historical stories but more and more of our films are about Indigenous realities today. And the majority of our filmmakers are women. This shows that often Indigenous films originate from strong women’s perspectives, as we will se in Nyla Innuksuks “Slash Back” tonight. This shift in Indigenous film is significant because it defines us as living cultures.

We are still here, alive.

Tonight, as we gather on this esteemed stage at The Academy Museum, I am reminded of the long path that has led us here. It’s a journey marked by perseverance, by the tireless efforts of countless individuals who dared to dream of a future where Indigenous voices would be heard and celebrated.

So my 14 year old me, watching the Academy nominated Pathfinder, felt at that moment that I was part of something truly magical. And looking back at it now, it really was. It is this life changing experience that has led us here to The Academy Museum stage tonight.

After a long journey of fighting for support to tell our stories , fighting for acknowledgement and understanding, standing here tonight feels like we have finally arrived.

So thank you dear Academy Muesum for welcoming us so warmly to the most prestigous and important film stage of the world, thank you for acknowleding our stories and giving our incredibly talented filmmakers your beautiful space to shine.

We are forever grateful.

Giitu – Thank you.