Thursday, March 07, 2019

Pohjankävijäin merkintöjä / Northern Travelogues

The Crying Chukchi. Walrus carving, a crying human figure. A human figure, carved from walrus ivory, sitting with knees bent in front of him, elbows on his knees and hands on his face. The carving is the work of Maritime Chukchi Tshuuta of Dezhnevo village on the East Cape. Suomen kansallismuseo / Yleisetnografiset kokoelmat / Antellin kokoelmat. 6,90 x 3 cm. VK5794:1-35. Photo: Museovirasto / JL-Kuvastudio / Erik Lindroth.

Pohjankävijäin merkintöjä / Northern Travelogue. Photo: Tampere Film Festival.

Tampere Film Festival (TFF) / National Competition 3
7.3. THU/TO 11:00 | PLEVNA 5 |
Kira Jääskeläinen | Finland 2018 | Documentary | 58 min

TFF: "In 1917 Finnish explorer Sakari Pälsi travelled to north-eastern Siberia carrying a cinematograph and 13,000 feet of film with him. The journey birthed a unique documentary film and a travelogue. A hundred years later director Kira Jääskeläinen returns to the Bering strait in Pälsi’s footsteps. By combining old and new film footage, Pälsi’s notes and the stories of the local indigenous peoples, the film tells the story of the Chukchi and Siberian Eskimos from the days gone by till today."

"Vuonna 1917 suomalainen tutkimusmatkailija Sakari Pälsi matkusti Koillis-Siperiaan mukanaan kinematografi ja lähes 4 000 metriä filminauhaa. Matkan aikana syntyi ainutlaatuinen dokumenttielokuva ja matkakuvaus. Sata vuotta myöhemmin ohjaaja Kira Jääskeläinen palaa Pälsin jalanjäljissä Beringinsalmelle. Elokuva on yhdistelmä vanhaa ja uutta kuvamateriaalia, Pälsin muistiinpanoja ja paikallisten alkuperäisväestöjen tarinoita, ja se kuvaa tšuktšien ja Siperian eskimoiden elämää menneistä ajoista tähän päivään." (TFF)

AA: Three years before Nanook of the North, the archaeologist Dr. Sakari Pälsi, an expert of the stone age, made a wonderful ethnographic film called Arktisia matkakuvia / Travelling in the Arctic (FI 1917–1919). The film has been preserved by The Finnish Film Archive / National Audiovisual Institute. This year we are celebrating the centenary of this milestone of the genre.

For a long time already motion picture cameras had belonged to the standard equipment of scientific expeditions, and there was nothing unusual in Pälsi's decision to make a film. Pälsi's distinction was in his approach. He distanced himself from the already popular and superficial genre of the travelogue. Pälsi's focus was not in exotic attractions. Instead, he was seeking a genuine connection with the people he studied and was impressed with the Chukchi and Eskimo way of life.

The Chukchi are an indigenous people living in Northeast Siberia along the Bering Strait and the Chukchi Sea. Kira Jääskeläinen has already made a documentary film on Chukotka called Tagikaks (2012). In Northern Travelogues she returns to the Bering Strait and stages a time odyssey for the people she meets, arranging several screenings of Pälsi's film. We even visit a children's screening of Travelling in the Arctic. The past comes alive in the present.

A key image is a statue given to Pälsi by his friends, The Crying Chukchi. A stark and eloquent symbol of the fate of the Chukchi people, the closest relatives of the First Americans.

The Fall of the Wall in 1989–1991 took place also in the Bering Sea. In Uelen, Kira Jääskeläinen explores the saga of Teneskin, King of Uelen, who lived seven generations ago. His ancestors are also spread widely all over California, and relatives are now able to meet each other again after the Fall of the Ice Wall. A special word for these meetings, pagantikuk, means "crossing the strait".

There is a focus on art in Kira Jääskeläinen's meta-documentary. A wooden amulet carved in archaic fashion is the family protector. The Chukchi are sophisticated artists carving and painting objects from walrus teeth and whale bones. We visit a center of walrus bone art. Another current of Chukchi art is the extremely reduced and stark approach seen in The Crying Chukchi and the wooden family amulet.

During the Soviet era even Communist characters appeared in art objects fashioned in the traditional way. The Soviet era was calamitous for the language and culture of indigenous peoples. Russian language became dominant, and Chukchis were reduced to a minority in their own land. In three ways Soviet era was beneficial: in general culture, medicine and education. Life expectancy grew, and infant mortality sank.

Northern Travelogues is a beautiful and profound documentary exploration about cultural memory and identity. It is a time bridge over a century of epochal change in the land of an ancient people.

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