Short Competition: Birds in the Earth


Birds in the Earth is an indigenous short film based on dance, youth and experimental storytelling. The film studies the situation of the Sámi culture in Finland. Sámis being the indigenous people of Northern Europe and Russia, and reindeer herding their traditional livelihood. The polarity of Nature and the Western way of life is filtered through sharp humor. Hello! My name is Marja Helander. I’m the director of Birds in the Earth, which is playing in the International Short Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. I had this vision of two indigenous dancers, Katja and Birit Haarla dancing the ballet choreography “Dying Swan” in front of the Finnish parliament house. Then the idea evolved to them dancing on the arctic mountains and villages. It was interesting to combine this really disciplined art form to the wild nature. The film tells also about the contradiction between Sámi people and the state of Finland, concerning the ownership of the land and the sovereigntyof Sámi people. During the shoots, the structure of the film was developed with collaboration and free association. We had a really small film crew, which made the filming situations flexible. At winter shoots, it was partly very cold,
even about -10 degrees Fahrenheit. That was challenging especially for our dancers, wearing only ballet costumes. With most of the shots, we could only have one take. After every take, the dancers needed to go inside to warm up. I’m really grateful for their patience! My film is not a statement or a pamphlet.
There’s humour, music, this Sámi traditional singing style: Joik. There’s beautiful views, stuffed animals, adventure,
nature… I think that in a work of art there should be something unexplainable. As a filmmaker, it’s interesting to give opportunity to chance, and with that, find some unexpected interpretations from the final film. Also in this case.

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