If I remember correctly, it was around 9 p.m in Bali and 3 p.m in northern Europe, where Liisa Holmberg currently lives. Liisa is a Film Commissioner at the International Sámi Film Institute (ISFI) in Norway. She has mastered the film business since 1994 by having worked as a film producer, production manager, and film consultant. It was an honor to meet her alongside the other Hybrid Internship Minikino Film Festival Writers 2022 and to learn more about The Pathfinder.
The Pathfinder (1987) is the celebrated first-ever Sámi feature film directed by Nils Gaup and the first Sámi film nominated for an Academy Award. After struggling with years and years of ethnic stereotyping and cultural appropriation in the media, the impact of The Pathfinder in doing the Sámi justice provoked the movement to end the discrimination, by creating guidelines for responsible filmmaking with Sámi culture and people. The guideline itself is named after the film.
The Pathfinder guideline is a joint initiative from ISFIIFSI, the Sámi Filmmakers Association, and the Pathfinder Filmmakers Reference Group. As written on the guideline, it is meant to serve as a practical guideline for filmmakers who want to include themes, topics, and persons related to Sámi in their films. On the other side, it hopes to educate people to become culturally sensitive toward Sámi.
Reading the guideline brought me back to contemplating the Minikino Hybrid Internship Festival Writers’ previous meeting with Kelly Lui, shorts and special programmer of the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival. “How can we be responsible for the story that we’re telling?”. This guideline not only gave me insights on how to be culturally sensitive but it could also be applied whenever we adopt any particular cultural element in a film.
Respect. Films involving Indigenous stories must be carried out carefully with the understanding of the particular history and contemporary reality of Indigenous people, and this can not be simply done by research. Based on the reason their stories are the reflections of their society and a part of their culture, the guideline stated that “they must be treated with the respect that reflects this importance.”. Who and how these stories can be rightfully addressed must be taken into account.
Hold yourself accountable. Before taking an interest in engaging with Sámi or any other Indigenous groups, you need to be aware of where you come from and recognize your privileges. The guideline designed a list of questions that a filmmaker could ask themselves; (1) Why am I the right person to tell this story?. (2) How will my film production benefit the Sámi community and what am I giving back?. (3) Is it right for me to take up this space?. (4) Why do I include Sámi content in my story?.
Involve. As a filmmaker coming from a place of power and privilege, we have to acknowledge that the Indigenous People have not yet had the same opportunity to tell their own stories in film. Always involve the Indigenous People in key-decision making and planning during the creative process. Remember, the Indigenous People are solely not cultural assistants but the original storytellers.
The Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia face similar issues regarding cultural appropriation in the media. The International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs estimated that Indonesia is the home of 50 to 70 million Indigenous Peoples, which equals around 19% of the Indonesian population. As an Indonesian (with the acknowledgment that I came from a privileged background), there are still lots of cultures being exploited by others to give “their” productions more “value”.
In an essay titled “Sumba From Java: Notes on Garin Nugroho, Ifa Isfansyah, and Mouly Surya Films” written by Umi Lestari, the author focused on how Sumba was represented through Letter For an Angel (1994), The Golden Cane Warrior (2014), and Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts (2017). The author identified that The Golden Cane Warrior and Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts used Sumba as an accessory for a film set and failed to shed light on the collective struggle of an ethnic group. Both also involved a lot of actors from outside Sumba as the main characters.
Meanwhile, Letter For an Angel tried to serve as a medium for Sumbese to tell their own stories, by recording all the good and bad things in Sumba. It also has a strong representation by having many actors from Sumba involved. Everyone has the freedom to tell any story, but behind it lies the commitment to be responsible. Whose stories are you telling? If the story is about Indigenous People and not your story, to begin with, you should always recognize they’re the ones entitled to freedom.
A guideline helps ensure equal participation and accountability. The Pathfinder guideline holds each filmmaker responsible for filmmaking. If a lot more people read and understand the guideline, filmmakers will be able to work collaboratively with the Indigenous People to address their own stories.