Sámi Language Historical Drama ‘Je’vida’ Takes Top Honors at Helsinki’s Finnish Film Affair

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The Finnish Film Affair, an annual industry event running parallel to the Helsinki International Film Festival, handed its top prize Thursday night to “Je’vida,” a historical drama about memory, survival and personal growth from director Katja Gauriloff.

“Je’vida” was one of seven fiction feature works in progress that were pitched to an audience of industry guests in Helsinki on Sept. 22, during the Finnish Film Affair’s showcase of local and regional projects. The jury noted that the winning film “is a story that needs to be told, with real potential to become relatable globally. The presentation and cinematography felt personal, beautiful and visually striking.”

Produced by Joonas Berghäll of Oktober Oy, “Je’vida” is the first film ever shot in the Skolt Sámi language. It tells the story of an elderly woman who has abandoned her past under the pressures of assimilation and winds across three different time periods. The film is currently in post-production.

“The film is from a woman’s perspective, about the times in a post-war world where strong policies of assimilation forced many Sámi people to be ashamed of their background and abandon their language and culture,” Gauriloff said in a director’s statement.

“By denying the language, the society broke the natural chain of generations and tore a people already hard pressed cruelly apart. The traumas I want to deal with through this film have been transferred from those days up to modern times.”

The international jury was comprised of Tribeca Film Festival programmer Jason Gutierrez, Curzon acquisitions executive Eleonora Pesci, and Claire Willats, the director of Film Nordics at Netflix.

The trio also handed out the award for best Nordic project, which was chosen from among five feature films in the Nordic Selection category. That prize went to “Natatorium,” a dramatic thriller that explores the dark, underlying secrets of a family’s matriarch that erupt in a tragedy that nobody could have foreseen.

Currently in post-production, the film is directed by Helena Stefáns Magneudóttir and produced by Sunna Guðnadóttir (Bjartsýn Films), Julia Elomäki (Tekele Productions) and Heather Millard (Silfurskjár). The jury noted: “This is an intriguing project that we’d love to follow and explore more. Despite having just started filming, the film already feels like it has a distinctive, atmospheric voice and a style that grabbed our attention.”

The award for best documentary project went to “The Last Chapter,” which was selected from among nine documentary features being presented on stage at Helsinki’s historic Bio Rex cinema. Directed by Mohamed El Aboudi (“School of Hope”) and produced by Kirsi Mattila (Icebreaker Productions), the film follows three immigrants in Finland who face the question of where and how they want to spend the last chapters of their lives.

“The project tackles complex and universal questions that will become more and more relevant and haven’t been touched before. The jury felt the creative intention of the director very strongly and believes this award can help the project realize its potential,” said the jury, which consisted of Pierre-Alexis Chevit, head of Cannes Docs at the Cannes Film Festival’s Marché du Film, Polly McAlister, sales manager at TVF International, and Hot Docs artistic director Shane Smith.

Sponsored by the Finnish Film Foundation, Konstsamfundet and AVEK, respectively, each award consists of €3,000 ($2,950) which will go toward the project’s international marketing for the fiction and Nordic features and the completion of an international trailer for the best documentary project. 

Other projects generating buzz this week in Helsinki include the fiction features “The Worst Idea Ever,” by Pamela Tola, Selma Vilhunen’s “Four Little Adults” and Thea Hvistendahl’s “Handling the Undead,” as well as the documentary “Start Me Up,” from director Helena Hyvärinen.

The 11th edition of the Finnish Film Affair — which wrapped with an award ceremony on Thursday night, followed by a traditional Finnish sauna — welcomed nearly 500 guests from over 20 countries, a third of whom were international guests and buyers.

“Compared to our last non-hybrid edition in 2019, we’ve had a 25% increase in attendance. It really shows the strength and appeal of both the local industry and our event,” said Finnish Film Affair director Maria Pirkkalainen.

The 35th Helsinki International Film Festival — Love & Anarchy runs Sept. 15 – 25.