Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Midnight Sun Film Festival Diaries
Day Three: Lap Give and Take: "The Minister of State"

by Liza Bear

SOLANDYKA, Wednesday June 11 - Writer-director Paul-Anders Simma , whose first feature "The Minister of State" was released nationally in March and played here today, was raised as the son of a reindeer herder in a Lapland village of 30 families and 15,000 reindeer.

A rough-edged story about a man who tricks villagers into buying back land which was theirs in the first place, this spunky comedy, set in the twilight of World War II, sports a rambunctious cast. Extremely tall and robust, Erik Kivienemi as lead is well-equipped to handle the physical demands of the role, including burning buildings and fast-paced action sequences boating down the rapids in which he allegedly does his own stunts. This is apparently the second film to originate from Lapland.

Laps, like Finns, benefit from a tax imposed on sales of blank cassettes to generate production funds, according to one of the film's co-producers.

"As an indigenous people it is quite important for us to make films because we are a minority in this country. " said Simma when we talk at the hotel bar after the well-received screening. "Lapland literature is in the oral tradition, and the film is based on a famous story, told from generation to generation, about this [alleged] Lap government minister who became a very well-known Robin Hood figure.

"He was full of contradictions," said Simma. "He came to Sagajokk from the south, cheated the villagers, took their money and left. But the people still considered him a big hero."

In the story as in Simma's film, the state had taken over land ownership. The self-appointed minister claimed there had been a mistake and that the land would be given back to them - at cost.

"This event took place in 1945," said Simma. "It's funny that no one has ever accused him of a crime," said Simma.

Asked about the historical context of the story and particularly about the role of the Nazis in the film, Simma said that the power of the Finnish state was weakened by the war because of its alliance with Germany, making it possible for the main character in his film to exploit the situation in Sagajokk to the Laps' benefit.

"Depending on who's telling the history," Simma said, "what happened was that the Finns were fighting on the Nazi side against Russia, and when they discovered that the Germans were going to lose the War, they decided they didn't want to be on the part of the losing side. So they made a deal with Stalin that they wouldn't fight the Russians any more. The Russians demanded that all the Germans be evacuated from Finland. So overnight allies became enemies. In retaliation the Germans burnt a lot of villages, as is shown in the film, to stop the Finns taking possession of houses.

"But I don't know if it's right only to blame the Germans," said Simma, "because the Finns invited the Germans in the first place. They didn't occupy this country. The situation is much more complex."

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