Let the River Flow

When film and reality meet

Ellos eatnu — La elva leve — Let the River Flow — won the Audience Award and Critics’ Award at the Nordic region’s largest film festival in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Tove Andersson

Among the activists blocking the entrance to the Department of Finance in the Norwegian capital in March, was the movie actor Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen.

The film Ellos eatnu—La elva leve—Let the River Flow—won best film according to the audience in Tromsø, Norway, followed by Kritikerprisen in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the biggest Northern film festival, Göteborg Film Festival. Isaksen plays the lead role in the film.

With Sámi youth and climate activists, she was in Oslo to protest against a wind farm in Fosen in western Norway. The wind farm is still operating despite a ruling by Norway’s Supreme Court in October 2021 that stated that the construction of the wind turbines violated the rights of the Sámi people. The land has been used by reindeer herders for centuries.

The film is based on the Sámi fight against a power plant that would create an artificial lake and inundate the Sámi village of Máze in 1979, not a whole lot different from protests of today. The protests 40 years ago are considered by many as the genises of a Sámi parliament.

The film makes artist Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen’s debut as a film actor. Her role as Ester is close to Ella Marie’s personal fight for the right to speak the language of her heart – Northern Sámi—as well as her active role as a climate activist.

Ellos eatnu – La elva leve is a drama with deep conflicts about a young person’s courage in the fight for Sámi rights in one of the most important events in Sámi and Norwegian history.

In the film, the lead protagonist, Ester, moves to Alta in Finnmark in the autumn of 1979 and starts her first job as a teacher. To fit in, she keeps her Sámi background hidden to avoid being exposed to racism, but she finds that her identity crisis is about more than an inner journey.

Ester’s cousin is a Sámi activist and participates in the demonstrations against the planned hydroelectric power plant in Altaelva (Alta River). When Ester joins him at the protest camp, her awakening and journey out of shame begins. She throws herself into a battle for the preservation of the river and for the right to be herself. It was this idea of solidarity that prompted director Ole Giæver to make the film. He believes that we live in a society with tendencies toward individualism.

Photo: Tove Andersson
Actor and activist Ella Marie Hætta Isaksen.

According to Giæver, it is “a story about racism in Norway. When I started the project I was Norwegian and had doubts about whether I should tell the story,” he said on Sámi National Day on Feb. 6.

Giæver was at first not aware of how important the Alta action was in the Sámi consciousness. In fact, the director attended the demonstrations in 1979 in a stroller. His family lived in Alta, and his father was active against the plans for Máze. Then he found Sámi heritage in his own family and decided he was able to treat the topic with respect.

“I am incredibly happy and proud that Ellos eatnu–La elva leve won both the critics’ and the audience award in Gothenburg. The two awards together are both a recognition of the film’s artistic qualities and ability to engage the audience. I am touched and grateful,” Giæver said.

Ella Marie is the same young woman who won “Stjernekamp” (Singing with the stars), a television contest. Her winning song “Máze,” was a joik by internationally famous Mari Boine and Liu Sola. The song is about the fight to preserve the Alta-Kautokeinovassdraget that resulted in a dramatic police action and subsequent hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament building in Oslo.

This article originally appeared in the May 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Tove Andersson

Tove Andersson is a freelance journalist who writes about travel and culture. She conducts interviews for the street magazine Oslo while writing poetry and fiction. Jeg heter Navnløs (My name is nameless) was published in 2020. Her website is www.frilanskatalogen.no/frilanstove, and she can be reached at tove.andersson@skrift.no.