In July I spoke with film director Suvi West, when we were both in the mad throes of moving house. Suvi was mid-flow packing, whilst I had just managed to get the internet after five days of waiting.
So it was a welcome moment for both of us to sit down and have a conversation over zoom about her recent documentary Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle. We saw the film as part of the Hot Docs festival over in Canada, and it’s a powerful piece that highlights the Sami people’s fight to regain their culture and land. Many people may not even know who the Sami people are and their struggle, so it’s a very educational piece as well.
Suvi explains the meaning of the title of her film and the process of starting to make it:
SUVI: The name can be pronounced differently depending on what Sami dialect, and it means ‘our land’. It is very close to the word ‘mother’ also.
The first time when I started to think about focusing on this story I wasn’t sure whether I really wanted to do it because it covered similar territory to my previous documentary. I wanted to do something totally different, something a bit lighter and with some love, but being Sami myself I started to notice these political decisions and laws that were coming up that showed that clearly the Finnish government didn’t seem to care nor understand the repercussion of their decisions.
It also felt like the whole society were being affected- that it started to feel like this big pressure and huge fear within the Sami of what their future will be.
I had no choice but to make this film – I felt it was my obligation as a Sami to help serve my people.
NW: It is noticeable that it has such a strong powerful statement within the documentary but also how educational it is. Has their been a noticeable impact or change since the release of the film?
SUVI: Well we don’t know yet how much of an impact the film has had yet and I am not sure I believe that one single film can have such an impact. However, I believe that it helps the people fighting for it – this film is one of those fighters.
Obviously the media in Finland has given it a lot of attention which we feel is really good and very important. I have been receiving so many messages from Finnish people telling me that they had seen the film and asking what they can do to help.
So I have personally felt that there has been a lot of love and rapport towards the Sami people from the Finnish people in society. Now they have received this information – so perhaps this was something new to you but it is also something new for Finnish people, which is crazy. Finnish people know more about native Americans than they do about the Sami people. So this has really opened the Finnish people’s eyes.
I think in the long run the knowledge will bring the change – things won’t happen right away but they can in the future.
NW: What about this Arctic Rail project which has a huge impact on the Sami and is highlighted in the movie?
SUVI: It is cancelled! We do not know if this is the impact of the film or the impact of the other implications but that is a good thing.
NW: With my background in the travel industry and these specific regions, I was aware of this rail project – I had obviously seen from a travel industry perspective the benefits, but watching the film I was suddenly introduced to the deeper rooted implications it would have and it was pretty shocking. So hearing this news is great!
SUVI: Well, for now it is a win but will they bury this plan and take this up in ten or twenty years?
NW: Where do you see your film going from here and how can more people get the opportunity to see it and learn from it?
SUVI: So in Finland we have had a cinema release and it has been getting watched in the cinemas – I didn’t think it would do so well as it is not a commercial film but apparently it has been able to intrigue people enough to come and see the film.
We are showing the film at film festivals in Finland and now the international film festivals are starting up again so hopefully, we will be present then for those in Autumn. Eventually, it will end up on TV in Finland and then other countries eventually – I know Switzerland has bought rights to show it.
It will end up on Sampifilm.com so one will be able to watch it on there globally.
It is still a pretty fresh film so it does take a bit of time.
NW: It feels exciting and just the beginning for the movie – hopefully, it will get the opportunity to reach wider audiences and educate them as much as it did us. It did get me thinking about whether we should be questioning the moral rights and wrongs when taking part in a ‘Sami excursion’ when on a winter holiday in Finland?
SUVI: This is a really tricky question, it is a tricky subject and theme. I think you could have the whole article really focused on this theme and perhaps someone else answer that question rather than me. I can only talk about the Finnish side of course but for me, the biggest tourist industries working in Finnish Lapland are owned and run by Finnish people. So they could be pretending to be Sami, especially these ones saying that they are shamans or something – you have to question their authenticity.
The Sami Parliament has made these ethical guidelines with tourist companies but I am not sure if these are always being followed. It is good to know that most of the time, these companies that tell you about Sami culture are not always Sami people. You can find the genuine information from the Sami Parliament.
I recommend generally that when travelling to these locations if you want to learn about the Sami is to travel to the places where there are genuine roots.
From the spiritual side of it, there is a lot of history to process and it is really quite a sensitive area. Those seeking this shamanism or other spiritual experiences and discover places offering tickets or selling bus tours to these locations do not go. One of the areas that are sacred to me and my family is so sacred that even we do not go there – it is a huge thing to go there.
NW: For someone who suddenly told themselves, right I want to educate myself more on the Sami, where would you say are some of the best places to go to get the right information?
SUVI: There are certainly plenty of places to read up on this, again I must stress I can only help with the Finnish side. Those travelling to the Inari municipality and particularly the village of Inari – this is a Sami village and there is a Sami museum here where there is lots of information here for tourists and it is Sami run. This is the official museum in Finland.
There is a book called the Liberation of the Sami which is in English and then gets following some activists.
If you want to know the background and recent history Amanda Kernell’s Sami Blood is a great film to watch also.
NW: What is next for you – what other projects have you got coming up?
SUVI: I have been working on some other projects now for a little while. They are different types of projects and one of them is a feature documentary about repatriation and it is more a philosophical and personal approach. I am just at the development stage and should be hoping to go into production soon.
Then I have also been writing a fictional feature film about womanhood – it is going to be like a present, something that I want to do and make.
NW: And why not? You have worked so hard with your previous work and it must be exciting to get the opportunity to do something for yourself. What about in your free time – have you been reading much or watching anything exciting?
SUVI: The last thing I watched was Too Hot To Handle on Netflix and I love that! That is my guilty pleasure – I have always loved ‘love’ and if Sami people had a better life I think I would be making romantic comedies and love stories. That’s why I love this show I love to see how the love starts – I also love Love Island and Love Is Blind.
It is like escapism for me – it helps me get my stress levels down. I don’t watch dramas, documenties, and horror films – it has to be something light.
I have been reading a lot of documents about this house move but as a book, I have been reading one about open-relationships, about polyamory relationships and how they work.
You know in Finland now open-relationships and polyamory is very trendy right now!
NW: Perhaps this explains why Finland has been crowned one of the happiest cities in Europe!
Eatnameamet – Our Silent Struggle is still travelling at festivals and we will keep a close on whether it will get any UK releases
Interview by Alex Minnis