The Northuldra of Scandinavia

Norway: Frozen 2

Champion of Sámi filmmaking Anne Lajla Utsi collaborated with Disney on 'Frozen 2'.

The Northuldra of Scandinavia

By Stefan Roesch

"If we indigenous peoples are invisible, we don't exist for the majority and in the end not for ourselves either. This is why film is crucial to raising the voices and stories of indigenous people." - Anne Lajla Utsi

Anne Lajla Utsi is a Norwegian Sámi filmmaker and the Managing Director of the International Sámi Film Institute where she has guided a new generation of Sámi filmmakers to international success.

Anne Lajla Utsi is a Norwegian Sámi filmmaker and the Managing Director of the International Sámi Film Institute where she has guided a new generation of Sámi filmmakers to international success.

When the world fell in love with iceman Kristoff and his charming reindeer Sven in the first Frozen movie, questions were raised about the extent to which Disney had appropriated Sámi culture - the culture of the indigenous people of Scandinavia and Northern Russia.

Keen to assure Frozen 2 was more culturally sensitive, Disney engaged Sámi in the production, and Anne Lajla Utsi was a key figure in the consultation process. 

What did your advisory role for Disney involve? 

"The Verddet advisory group worked together with the filmmakers of Frozen 2 on the Sámi-inspired elements of the story, such as the Sámi-style clothing and also the parts involving the natural spirits."

In Frozen 2, the Northuldra are an indigenous group who live within the Enchanted Forest north of Arendelle, known as the 'people of the sun'. They are deeply connected to the magic of the forest and its elemental spirits.

In Frozen 2, the Northuldra are an indigenous group who live within the Enchanted Forest north of Arendelle, known as the 'people of the sun'. They are deeply connected to the magic of the forest and its elemental spirits.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Sámi culture? 

"The Sámi people are the indigenous peoples living in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Our traditional livelihoods are reindeer herding, fishing and hunting. Reindeer herding is still today an important business for our people. We have 10 different languages that are on the United Nations list of severely endagered languages, because of a hard assimilation policies by the Nordic countries up until the 1960s. In the central Sámi areas, Sámi education is undertaken in Sámi languages, but there are only around 2000 Sámi language pupils in Norwegian schools today."

Anna Risten Bongo has been a part of the marking of the reindeer as long as she can remember. And she loves her animals.

Anna Risten Bongo has been a part of the marking of the reindeer as long as she can remember. And she loves her animals.

"Sámi art and film has had a great success the recent years, with Sámi filmmakers winning awards and artists having exhibitions in important art events. However, there are many political challenges today for our people, such as a huge gap in economic support for Sámi society, and big industries wanting to establish themselves on our lands resulting in cases that are being fought in the courts."

How did Disney give back to the Sámi community? 

"We signed an agreement with Disney to assure we would share specific benefits. These included the creation of a dubbed version of Frozen 2 in one of the Sámi languages, a screen credit to thank the Sámi people, an invite to representative members of the Sámi to attend the U.S. based world premiere of the movie, and the pursuit of cross-learning opportunities between both parties."

Signing the contract with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.

Signing the contract with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.

Are some of the places in the movie based on real places?

"The filmmakers visited several places in Sápmi. The forests and the landscapes in Frozen 2 are very inspired by our nature."

The treeless landscape of Norway's arctic circle.

The treeless landscape of Norway's arctic circle.

Elsa, north of Arendelle.

Elsa, north of Arendelle.

Has the story of Frozen 2 derived any elements from Sámi culture?

"The Northuldra characters are very influenced by our people and culture, such as the landscape, the reindeer, the clothing, the spiritual connections to nature and also some specific elements such as their use of the guksi (a wooden cup) and the lavvus Sámi tents."

Sámi woman collecting cloudberries with a guksi.

Sámi woman collecting cloudberries with a guksi.

The traditional lavvus tent of the Sámi. 

The traditional lavvus tent of the Sámi. 

How do the Sámi define their concept of home? 

"The Sámi people are the people of our land and we are still deeply connected to it both because of reindeer herding and fishing and hunting, but also this is our home and has been for thousands of years. So our home is not just our house where we live. Our home is our mountains where we have travelled, our rivers where we fish, our marshland where we pick berries and our land where the reindeer graze."

Liv Engholm Turgleder takes visitors along on guided tours on the Finnmarksvidda plateau. She says that the reindeer migration today stands as one of the most memorable experiences that Turgleder - and Finnmark - have to offer.

Liv Engholm Turgleder takes visitors along on guided tours on the Finnmarksvidda plateau. She says that the reindeer migration today stands as one of the most memorable experiences that Turgleder - and Finnmark - have to offer.

As an international visitor to your region, how can I experience Sámi culture in a respectful and meaningful way? 

"From the Sámi perspective we first of all hope guests remember to respect nature when they visit. Don't pollute and remember that the Arctic environment is fragile. There are many Sámi tourist companies in the North in Alta, Tromsø, Inari and Ivalo in Finland and also in Jukkasjarvi in Sweden."

Cooking together in a lavvus tent is a great opportunity for visitors to learn more about the traditional ways of the Sámi.

Cooking together in a lavvus tent is a great opportunity for visitors to learn more about the traditional ways of the Sámi.

When is the best time to travel to your region? 

"The winter is the time to see the Northern Lights, but the summer is a nice time because of the midnight sun."

The famed Northern Lights are at their best from September to mid-April.

The famed Northern Lights are at their best from September to mid-April.

The midnight sun shining over the Lofoten Islands.

The midnight sun shining over the Lofoten Islands.

Who are your favourite characters in Frozen 2

"Of course I love the Northuldra, and especially Jelena."

Jelena, Elsa and Anna.

Jelena, Elsa and Anna.

And your favourite scene? 

"My favourite scene is when the giants blow the dam, because the building of the Alta Dam in the early 1980s, was a big political uprising for our people. The Norwegian government did build the dam, so it was nice to see it blown away in Frozen 2!"

Are there any specific Sámi movies you would recommend?

"The award winning Sámi Blood from director Amanda Kernell is an absolute must see! It is on Hulu, Amazon, iTunes and different streaming platforms. Another award winning film is The Body Remembers When The World Broke Open of Sámi/Blackfoot director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, now streaming on Netflix."

Sámi Blood: This clear-eyed coming-of-age tale follows a headstrong Sámi teenager who attempts to abandon her indigenous heritage and pass as Swedish in a 1930s society rife with prejudice and discrimination.

Sámi Blood: This clear-eyed coming-of-age tale follows a headstrong Sámi teenager who attempts to abandon her indigenous heritage and pass as Swedish in a 1930s society rife with prejudice and discrimination.

Thanks so much Anne!

If you're interested in embarking on your own Frozen 2 inspired adventure, here are some Sámi tour companies Anne would recommend:

Nutti Sámi Siida AB
Marknadsvägen 84, SE - 981 91, Jukkasjärvi, Sweden
www.nutti.se

Boazo Sámi Siida
Steinfossveien 5, 9518 Alta, Norway
www.samisiida.no

Visit Inari Safaris
Inarintie 38, 99870 Inari, Finland
https://visitinari.fi

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