• Interviews

Elle Márjá Eira on Her Debut Feature “Stolen”

Elle Márjá Eira is an artist-composer-producer-director from Kautokeino, northern Norway, who is preparing to release her debut feature, Stolen, adapted from the critically acclaimed novel of the same name by author Ann-Helén Laestadius. Based on actual events, Stolen is a coming-of-age story told from the perspective of a young Sámi girl who struggles to defend her family’s reindeer herd while grappling with xenophobic issues that face her culture. The film will stream on Netflix later in the year.

Eira is among the new Sámi voices gaining attention from the film community. She has previously directed several short films (Ealát, The Sámi Have RightsMonica Z, Viva Hate, How Soon is Now?).

Eira says of her new project, “This young Sámi woman grows up in a reindeer herding family, and it’s about her stories and her struggles defending her reindeer-herding background as well as her Sámi heritage.” The Sámi community hails from Lapland (northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and the Kola peninsula in Russia).

“It’s important to tell this story about the Sámi people, but it’s also important to tell the story about reindeer herding. I am a reindeer owner myself, and I grew up in a reindeer-herding family. So I feel like I’m so ready to tell this. I’m really excited.”

Films about Sámi culture focus on the Sámi environment, composed of wide-open spaces in the harsh Arctic landscape. The Sámi have an ethical relationship with nature which also features a vital spiritual element. “The land is your heart” is a philosophy that resonates with Eira. “Very much so,” she nods.

Eira is speaking at the Tromsø Film Festival after she has conducted a Q and A about her upcoming film. She says of her deep connection with nature, “As I am a reindeer herder and I grew up in Kautokeino, I have spent my life outdoors and I have a connection to every place. I am also a musician, a joiker [traditional Sámi singer], and every time I go to one of the places where the reindeer are I feel really connected. And also, these places have a special nuance.”

Shooting in such wide-open spaces in an Arctic environment offers an experience of harsh and unique beauty. “You see some stars, even the Northern Lights, but the smell is also important, as is the sound, what you hear and see. Everything is special.”

Eria is the perfect choice to direct Stolen, especially given that she is also living a traditional nomadic Sámi lifestyle. “Yes. I always say, ‘I don’t have one home, I have several homes.’ It depends on where my reindeer are because we are moving all the time with them. We have eight Sámi seasons, not only four, so we move around from the winter pasture area to the summer, and then we do the same all over again.  It’s like a circle,” she explains. “Being a reindeer herder is a mentally tough job, and it’s also physically challenging. You’re very much alone with your dog and your reindeer, and you’re far away from your family, dealing with the weather, hundreds of reindeer, and of course, we have this dark time when it’s really cold.”

Now with Netflix taking such an interest in the Sámi culture, it’s an indication of positive things to come for future Sámi films. “I think so. I think the international industry of the people coming from outside Norway may be more interested in learning not only who the Sámi are, but also Indigenous people all around the world.”