TIFF 2016: Sámi Blood Review

Discovery 

Directed by Swedish-Sami Amanda Kernell, and starring two non-professional actors, Sámi Blood is a masterpiece worthy of your time. It concerns itself with the experiences of two sisters, Elle Marja (Lene Cecilia Sparrok)  and Njenna (Mia Erika Sparrok), and both actresses give remarkable performances of individuals experiencing cultural genocide. A sad fact is that both of these girls, in real life, currently attend residential school.

Residential schooling in Sweden and Canada are different, but based on the same general idea – take the unwanted, “alien” culture or cultures and integrate them forcibly into the mainstream culture. Elle Marja is excited to attend ‘Swedish school’ where she excels at first, but then realizes that there is simply no escaping her ‘shameful’ heritage. In an attempt to divorce herself of her ancestry, she flees the school and attempts to enrol in a mainstream school (when her teacher at the residential school indicates that the Sami people are too stupid to succeed elsewhere, my heart broke). It is her desire to integrate with the mainstream that ultimately causes her to pay the ultimate price, which she is still paying as a much older woman.

This film, the first feature-length film to be in the Sami language, is ripe for conversation afterwards. Both sisters engage with the mainstream culture differently, even if it looks like they are just going along with the flow or are trapped in the system. A particularly traumatic scene which occurs when a phrenologist visits for an examination of the “inferior” Sami children will not be forgotten.

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The Swedish residential school makes one sister more of a Sami, even though it could be said that she did well at the residential school. On the other hand, for the older sister, the residential school succeeds beyond its wildest expectations – and it doesn’t have to try very hard.

Like Canadian residential schools however, families are irreversibly damaged in the name of assimilation. Thankfully, this film stands out for all the right reasons.

Screening: 

Sunday Sept. 18, 11:45am @ TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

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