The film received its Finnish premier in October 2023 and was screened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Je'vida is the first full-length fictional movie filmed in the Skolt Sámi language, a severely endangered Eastern Sámi language with only about 300 speakers. This film explores themes related to the forced loss of language and the rediscovery of ethnic identity. It is particularly significant within the Sámi community, which consists of around 10,000 people in Finland.
The Skolt Sámi were living in the area of Murmansk which was became part of the USSR after the Second World War. They were allocated land in the Finnish side of the new border, and the children were sent to Finnish schools, where they were denied right to speak their own language.
The film, made in Skolt Sámi, opens up the traumas of forced Finnishization. Directed by Katja Gauriloff, it tells the story of Je'vida, a Skolt Sámi woman, navigating the intersection of two cultures. Gauriloff had envisioned this film for twenty years, facing the significant challenge of finding actors proficient in Skolt Sámi for a feature-length film due to the endangered language.
The film portrays the life journey of the fictional Je'vida, or Iida, from childhood to adulthood, delving into the profound meaning of one's language, community, and the rupturing of roots. "Je'vida" addresses the crossroads of two cultures and the deep trauma inflicted by forced Finnishization after the war, a period during which Sámi children were sent to distant schools, subjected to harsh dormitory conditions, and stripped of their language and culture.
The film confronts haunting and shameful memories, reflecting the lasting impact of these experiences. Following the screening, the audience could engage directly with the director, Katja Gauriloff, delving deeper into the film's topic, history, and the filming process.
The director explained how this was a very personal project for her, telling stories she had been hearing over the years. In other words, the film is based on actual events, stories, and experiences from the director's relatives. "Je'vida" is a poignant exploration of cultural loss, identity, and the enduring effects of historical trauma within the Sámi community.
It also features the new generation of Skolt Sámi, who have learned the language which is now supported, with the old who have been able to retain this. This screening of the film in the cinemas is also made possible by the renewed interest in the Sámi culture at large, and, at times, the politicisation of their struggle and representations of the Sámi identity.