Finland European is a polemical, provocative short film about the Lappish Sami people, who were forced into becoming Finnish and about a Finland that has willingly turned into a European nation.
Interview with Writer/Director/Producer Sami Ala
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
It was inspired by a poem that I wrote, which in turn was sparked off by Allan Ginsberg’s poem ‘America’. I really liked his poem and wanted to write something socially critical about my native Finland. However, my stance differs from Ginsberg’s in that I criticize my home country from the point of view of the Sami, the only native people of Europe, who live in northern Scandinavia. There are close parallels between their status and fate and those of the Native North Americans. I myself am not a member of this minority, but because I am a native of Lapland, the region that the Samis have traditionally inhabited, I felt at home with this viewpoint.
The second theme in the script is the Europeanization that Finland itself has adopted, which is also a sad story. Finland is a small nation, whose language and culture is related to none other in Europe. We do not belong to the same Indo-European linguistic family tree as our neighbours Sweden, Norway and Russia. Our society did not truly become industrialized and urbanized until the 20th century. Now that we are officially members of the European Union, we do our utmost to be ‘Europeans’. Especially West Europeans. It seems that we do it, whatever the cost.
For example, our government is rushing through the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) agreement, and people are not really told what it will entail. The Finnish groundwater reserves are large and the water quality is excellent. Everyone knows that in the future, with the world’s water reserves shrinking, clean water will be a valuable commodity. We already have groundwater intake plants, partly owned by companies such as Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestle and Unilever. Citizens’ rights to groundwater, belonging to everyone, will be crucially altered.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
My film aims to be honest. It is not entertainment. Unlike entertainment, it aims to wake you up, not sedate you. I do think it’s also entertaining — assuming that you find irony, satire and sarcasm entertaining. Half of my film consists of footage of the Finnish government ministers in a parliament sitting. It is not the present government, however, the previous one was as bad as the current one and it is partly responsible for Finland being sold piecemeal to international buyers.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
Even though the structure of my film is forged by the monologue of a lonely and alienated man, there is nothing personal about it. The film is solely about the identity change, forced upon the Samis by the Finns, and about the Finns’ desire to become European.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
I did everything without a script. The whole film was based on a poem. It was written as a poem, yet I wasn’t happy with it. It was lacking something but I couldn’t improve it by re-writing. Then I thought about making it into some kind of an experimental document. An actor read it out for me and I started ‘illustrating’ it. Suitable images had to be found. And music. The role of the music grew bigger than I expected. With this I mean the effect it had. Especially in the section where we see the Finnish Parliament sitting, the March of Narva is very effective. The March of Narva is played in state funerals in Finland.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
All feedback has been positive. Very positive.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
The surprising thing about the feedback is that no one got provoked to the extent I was hoping they would. On the other hand, it is really hard to shock anyone these days, through art or by any other means.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
I’m hoping to gain more and better resources to make further films.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
Anyone and everyone would be of help. The biggest help of course would be to get a producer. It would save a lot of work. I belong to the group of people who would like to live entirely without money. Merely applying for a grant is a challenge for me. Also, the producer spars with the director and fulfills other important functions. The producer looks after everything else so that the director can concentrate on his own work. An agent would also be very useful. The best, of course, would be if someone bought my film.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
For my own part I wanted to highlight the Sami situation and problems in Scandinavia and Finland. I wanted to remind people of this dark side of our history. Especially when Finland, Sweden and Norway try and present themselves as some kind of model states regarding human rights issues.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
It’s the issue of how we treat our minorities. Our relatives, in fact. We Finns are of the same family tree as the Samis.
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
In August this year I travelled to Udmurtia, Russia. I filmed and recorded material for a documentary about a local poet. The film is coming out in 2017. Udmurtia is situated in the deepest Russia, some 1000km east of Moscow. During the two-day train journey I filmed a lot of rail yards, rail tracks and passing trains. Back home I put together a short, experimental film from this material and am presently searching for opportunities to screen it.
Interview: October 2016
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Finland European is a polemical, provocative short film about the Lappish Sami people, who were forced into becoming Finnish and about a Finland that has willingly turned into a European.
Length: 10 min 04 s.
Director: Sami Ala
Producer: Sami Ala
Writer: Sami Ala
Key cast: Juha " Korppi" Jaakola ( Man in sauna.)
Funders: My film was sponsored by AVEK (The Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture), an organisation that uses its share of copyright remuneration to promote audiovisual culture in Finland. It gave a grant towards certain production costs in the making of the film.
Release date: - 29.11.2014
Where can I watch it in the next month?
Right now my film is not being screened. Last summer 2016 it toured in film festivals in Estonia, Bangladesh, Canada and the UK. I will be offering it to other festivals and hopefully it will get further exposure.