Sami Blood (Spotlight)
Who: Amanda Kernell, director and writer
Logline: A young reindeer-herding Sámi girl, exposed to the racism of the 1930s and race biology examinations at her boarding school, starts dreaming of another life, and soon breaks ties with her family and culture in order to achieve this.
The length of the shoot was: 35 days
Our crew size was: around 35 people
Our camera, lenses and lighting package: The camera was the Arri Alexa Plus High Speed. Lenses were Cooke S4s.
The first spark of an idea for this movie: My grandmother dislikes Sámi people (the indigenous people of northern Europe)—even though she is Sámi herself. She grew up in the mountains in a reindeer-herding family, only speaking the Sámi language. But now she claims that she is from the south, goes by a different name and hasn’t spoken to her sister since the ’60s. I’ve always wondered why she became someone else. Can you really become someone else? And what happens to someone’s identity if they cut all bonds with their past, culture and history?
Budget range: $2-5 million
My favorite scene (or shot) in the film is: the scene when the main character, Elle Marja (at 85 years old), opens her sister’s coffin near the end of the film, and leans down and whispers to her. For a moment, it feels like the sister may wake up again.
An audience watching my film probably won’t know that: the two sisters in the film are actual sisters—and are actual reindeer-herders in real life.
An influence or reference on this film was: Loves of a Blonde by Miloš Forman is one, mostly for the character and story. Ratcatcher by Lynne Ramsay is another reference, and Lore by Cate Shortland is another.
The most expensive thing in our budget was: the last scene, shot in the mountains by the polar circle in the wilderness of Europe where there are no roads. We had to get there by helicopter and then the extras, who were all reindeer-herders, drove there on quads with their dogs (teepees and all). I wanted to shoot the scene in dusk, so we had to start shooting at 1:30 a.m. or so, but as we started rehearsing, it turned out that the camera assistant had forgotten the lenses. So that became a very expensive day in many ways.
The greatest flash of inspiration or brilliance we had making this film was: improvising the last scene. Since the camera assistant had forgotten the lenses and it took a while to get a hold of a helicopter pilot in the middle of the night, everything was delayed and the sun came up. It all felt ruined. But then we gave all the extras a break, and I improvised with the 75-year-old main actress: She arrives to this camp of teepees, her home as a child, and it’s just her and the dogs. The scene has a certain magic to it, that moment, and when we shot it, I just felt that it was much truer than the scene we were originally trying to shoot. I was high for days after shooting it, thinking that it was the truest and beautiful thing I’d ever done.
The biggest lesson I learned making this movie was: not to make two films at the same time, like I did. They’re both great films, but it was just too much for my head to be in two separate stories at the same time.
I need to give a special shout-out to: DP Sophia Olsson. She’s an educated DP from the National Film School of Denmark and has a diploma as a director from the Swedish Film School, and she’s absolutely amazing. She’s sharp and artistic and original without being pretentious and has this amazing ability to really be in the same breath as the characters when filming handheld scenes.
When I heard we got into Sundance I: was very happy to be invited! It has been kind of surreal with all the attention the film has gotten, after premiering in Venice and then Toronto, and all the awards. I’m very grateful and very proud of all the great work the cast and crew have done with this film.
My favorite film festival moment in my life so far is: the premiere of Sami Blood in Venice, with standing ovations. I was so nervous about whether people would get the film or not, but people seemed to get it. But then again every screening of the film at festivals has been amazing. So many people have come up to the main actress and me afterwards, crying or wanting to share their own stories, telling us they felt that the film was about them and their lives. And in those moments, it feels worth all the trouble and hard work making the film.