Rap and Reindeer at EUFF online – A documentary about Indigenous people in Finland through the self-discovery journey of a young rapper

Inspired by the connection between Sámi people, an Indigenous and often-marginalized people of Scandinavia, and their land, known as ‘Sápmi’ or sometimes ‘Lapland,’ Petteri Saario produced Rap and Reindeer, a documentary that follows the life of an 18-year-old Sámi rapper Mihkku Laiti. The film aims to take the audience on a journey with Laiti as he makes a decision between his dream career and the reindeer herding tradition of his family.

Rap and Reindeer will be screened at The Cinematheque in Vancouver on Nov. 28 as a part of the European Union Film Festival (EUFF) 2023 and streams online as part of EUFF’s online lineup from Dec. 1–17.

Saario’s career in film

Film director, producer and wildlife cinematographer Petteri Saario runs an independent production company, DocArt, whose work explores the changing relationship between man and nature. His career is driven by an interest in outdoor activities he developed from such a young age.

“Even in the winter time and when I am inside, I try to find the nearest window because I want to see what’s there outdoors,” says Saario.

Saario has not always worked in the film industry. While he started as a journalist specializing in environmental issues and nature, Saario later felt that this way of delivering information based purely on facts was not effective. That was when he decided to change his approach.

“So I turned to creative documentaries. I want to tell stories that have a strong emotional background,” says Saario. “I believe that a good film or a creative film is the best way to motivate one to find more facts.”

Mihkku Laiti – The Young Sámi

Saario has known Laiti long before he directed Rap and Reindeer. Around 15 years ago, he made a documentary called Beckhams of Utsjoki that featured a Sámi family with three different generations. Laiti, he recalled, was only five years old back then.

“I remember when I was filming that documentary, Mihkku said to his mother that ‘now that Petteri has made a film about our family, he has to make the next film about me,’”says Saario.

Petteri Saario.

Although Saario did not promise anything to young Laiti, the two have crossed paths again in Rap and Reindeer. The little boy that he knew from many years ago has now grown into a charismatic and strong young Sámi man.

Saario says he chose Laiti to be the protagonist this time due to the persistent lack of Sámi-focussed documentaries targeting a young audience.

“Nowadays, when we talk about media and the youth, we very often talk about TikTok and YouTube. But I personally believe that there is a need for longer stories and feature length documentaries for children and the youth,” says Saario.

Saario had also developed a plan for Rap and Reindeer to reach the young audience. For instance, he and his team worked with a Finnish organization to produce an educational package for schools to teach students about Sámi people and culture. Moreover, Saario and Laiti also went on a tour to small communities in Lapland, or Sápmi, after the movie premiere. They screened the film and held a Q&A session with Laiti afterward. The young Sámi had once again amazed the director.

“He gave very good hints to those Sámi youngsters about how to make music and he encouraged them to show their own talent. I was really impressed how he captured the audience wherever we were in Lapland,” says Saario.

Besides being a role model for youth, Laiti represents young Sámi who want to redefine their culture. Saario notices that this reflects a gap between the old and the young generation of Sámi people.

“I have noticed that in the Sámi community, the older generation doesn’t necessarily know very well what is going on among the younger generation,” says Saario. “So it is important to show the Sámi community that this kind of change [made by the young] to the culture is going on all the time.”

Creating ethically and respectfully

One of the reasons Saario wanted to make a documentary about the Sámi people is because people in Finland barely know anything about them. But he acknowledged the ethical difficulties that came from him being a non-Indigenous director.

“It is really important that Indigenous people make films about themselves,” said Saario. “But I think that it is also important for people who are not native themselves to make films about native people because then the angle is a little bit different. You can see things that you perhaps can’t see when you are inside the culture in a small community.”

Saario went on to emphasize the need for collaboration between a non-Indigenous director and Indigenous people during the filming process.

“When you make a film about native people, you always need to make it together with them,” he says.

Overall, Saario hopes the film can encourage Canadian audiences to consider their cultural relationship with Indigenous people here in Canada.

“I hope you enjoy the film. I hope that it gives you something to think about your own relationship with your country’s Native people,” Saario says. “I also hope that this film encourages people to think about and take better care of disappearing cultures and nature.”