The Cannes panel discussion saw the participation of Anne Lajla Utsi, of the International Sami Film Institute, and Meghan Beaton, Norwegian Film Commission Chief Executive.

On 19 May, the Marché du Film Main Stage hosted the Global Film Commission Network Summit. The third panel of the event, titled “Indigenous Storytelling: The Importance of Authenticity” was introduced by Jaclyn Philpott, AFCI’s Executive Director.

The session, moderated by Ánorâk Film producer Emile Hertling Péronard, explored accurate Indigenous representation in front of and behind the camera, promoting inclusivity and collaboration. It saw the participation of International Sami Film Institute Managing Director Anne Lajla Utsi and Norwegian Film Commission Chief Executive Meghan Beaton. Other speakers included Calgary Economic Development VP Luke Azevedo, producer-director Shelby F. Elwood, and Becket Film Fund CEO Michael Burkenbine.

Before introducing the panellists, Philpott and Hertling Péronard defined the topic as very close to their hearts “as a person born and bred in New Zealand and growing up in equality and freedom from discrimination” and as a member of the indigenous Inuit community in Greenland, respectively.

The mic was then handed to Utsi, who defined the film institute as “a small organisation with limited budget by European standards” yet “the most important advocacy body for Indigenous filmmakers in Europe.”

First, she spoke about her film school days. “Back in 2000, there were few Sami filmmakers who wanted to tell their own stories, but they couldn’t get funding. That’s how we ended up kicking off our own funding body in 2009. For years, we only had one Sami film, Nils Gaup’s Pathfinder, Norway’s 1988 Oscars entry.”

“We began supporting small productions – docs and shorts – and we’re today standing at a crossroads wherein our filmmakers are taking on features and larger projects. There’s a growing interest in our productions and in our institute, and we’re still fighting for more money as we need to get the same opportunities as everybody else.”

Next, Utsi underscored how the Sami and the 370 million Indigenous people spread across the world “share the same history of colonisation, assimiliation and erasure of their identity, language and culture.” “That’s the backdrop for all of us,” she summed up.

For many years, Sami have been depicted in front of the camera wearing their traditional clothes and being seen as exotic folks singing their songs and telling their tales. “Behind the camera, we’ve been serving as production assistants and consultants. But those days are over. We no longer do collaborations like that, and we encourage everyone who approaches to establish meaningful partnerships, which will benefit both parties. We can learn, but we also want to be in the lead in Sami stories: directors, producers, co-producers and writers, and not just assistants in some departments,” Utsi continued.

Then she touched on the institute’s collaboration with Disney on Frozen 2. “They approached us as they wanted to do this production in a respectful, sensitive way since it was heavily inspired by our culture. I led the Sami advisory group, and we had a great collaboration.”

“And, our stories have economic value. Not only big productions should benefit from them, there must be value left in our society.”

The main tool to establish fruitful partnerships is the Pathfinder report, whose main objective is to develop “a sustainable and authentic Sami film industry, where the Sami people are in the lead of the development and production of their stories on screen.”

“We value respectful collaboration with professional film industries in the Nordic countries and worldwide,” states the Pathfinder. Its key principles are respect for the Sami heritage and cultural, moving from the notion of cultural appropriation to that of cultural exchange, fair intellectual property rights, free prior and informed consent “with the right to say no,” meaningful participation and benefit sharing. The basis of the document is the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“We own our culture, our stories, our artefacts, our music tradition, so it’s not something you can just take and use as you please,”

Later, the other speakers agreed with Utsi’s takes. Elwood touched on her slate, which includes six new projects about First Peoples and Native Americans, whilst Burkenbine and Azevedo briefly spoke about the financial perspectives and the making of Martin Scorsese’s hit Killers of the Flower Moon, which set “a gold standard for this type of production.”

In her contribution, Bethon praised the institutional “realisation” that a Sami film industry needs to be developed alongside the national one in Norway. However, she also admitted how “incentives are still geared towards larger projects.” She also commended the work carried by the International Sami Film Institute: “As soon as we let productions know there’s a dedicated institution, they want to engage and discuss everything directly with the. Our position is that of an ally, not that of an intermediary. Any collaboration that’d happen would be based on their terms and needs,” the Chief Executive pointed out. She added how producers are significantly more sensitive than in the past: “I feel lucky as I’ve never met anyone who’s not interested in establishing a real collaboration.”

Towards the end of the panel, Utsi informed how the institute is often approached by documentary filmmakers from all around the world. “What concerns us is that they’re interested in telling this one single story. They want to follow a reindeer herding family migrating from the inlands to the coast in spring. We’ve heard it so many times. Reindeer herding is an important aspect of our culture, but it’s not the only one.”

Finally, she spoke about the feature Stolen, which was recently released on Netflix and attracted 25 million viewers worldwide. “Netflix approached us a few years ago, when they both the book rights from the Sami author. They wanted to work with us, and we gave them the Pathfinder. We told them they really needed to have a Sami director on board, as the story is so local and focuses on reindeer herding. It’d be a totally different thing if helmed by some director from Southern Norway, for example. We managed to convince them and the feature was ultimately directed by debutant Elle Márjá Eira. We’ve also got a Sami DoP and many Sami crew members on board. It’s been a fruitful collaboration.”