Russia’s Sami reindeer herders are struggling to protect their land and culture on the resource-rich tundra.
Editor’s note: This film is no longer available to view online.
At the outermost edge of Europe, 150km away from the nearest road lies the picturesque Sami village of Krasnoschchelye.
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It is the ancestral home of Sascha and her family, traditional tundra reindeer herders. But their life-sustaining tundra is also rich in minerals and other resources.
Sascha, a member of the newly formed Sami parliament in Russia, struggles to save her village and culture from the aggressively encroaching mining and other business ventures which are destroying her beloved tundra.
Sascha and her modest group face government and big business to save their reindeer lands, their home and traditions in the lead up to the annual herders’ festival.
By René Harder
The beginning was magical. The landscapes, which were vast, austere and strikingly foreign, immediately cast a spell on me. My astonishment was magnified when I learned that the Kola Peninsula was no further away from me than Gibraltar and is, in fact, larger than Belgium and Holland put together. It turned out that I was not the only one who knew next to nothing about this far northeastern corner of Europe (although I have long taken an intense interest in Europe’s east).
Many of the Sami people remaining in Russia succumb to alcohol and depression, which all too often ends in suicide. Their day-to-day existence is marked by poverty and unemployment.
Yet, more and more of these indigenous people are realising that they do not want to live anywhere else and that they need to find a personal relationship with their traditional lifestyle, which is under threat from disappearing forever.
In this project I am drawn to the sheer hopeless battle to maintain an unprofitable way of life in the midst of a world ruled by free-market economics.
Krasnoshchelye is the last village on the Kola Peninsula that still makes a living from reindeer breeding. It is the last bastion of a cultural heritage born of the symbiosis, developed over millennia, between the Sami people and reindeer, and its survival now hangs in the balance.
The protagonists that capture my imagination as a filmmaker are individuals who manage to assert themselves, with passion and humor, in an environment that oppresses many others.
I want to follow their struggle, seeing the world through their eyes. The very fact that the action taken by the participants is so individual lends it great symbolic significance.