Ole Tangen Jr. (right) is an independent filmmaker and journalist. Growing up, he spent summers visiting family in Norway. The trip back to make "Reindeer Men" was only his second visit to Norway's frozen north. Tangen earned his M.A. in documentary production from Emerson College in Boston and is currently developing other documentary projects in Germany and Indonesia.
Chetin Chabuk is an independent filmmaker. He, too, has an M.A. from Emerson College in Visual Media Arts. Chabuk lives in Boston, where he works as assistant editor for PBS's FRONTLINE.
There is something otherworldly about the windswept, frozen tundra of northern Norway.
"When I was young, my Norwegian parents told me tales of a people who roamed these lands for centuries, following and living off their flocks of reindeer," recalls FRONTLINE/World reporter Ole Tangen as he drives through this Arctic landscape. "They were mythical figures, remnants of time past."
Welcome to the land of the Sami.
On Rough Cut this week, filmmakers Chetin Chabuk and Ole Tangen Jr. take us into this land of fabled reindeer herders. For those of us raised on visions of Santa Claus and his flying reindeer, it's a bracing reality check. Just don't tell your Rudolf-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer-loving children that reindeer meat is considered a delicacy in Norway.
Sometimes called "the people with four countries," the indigenous Sami roam across the northern borders of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In Finland, in particular, they are also known as Lapps. A century ago, Sami author and artist Johan Tuuri wrote: "We, the Sami people, come from nowhere. We have always been here, long before anybody else."
Today, only a small number of the 60,000 to 80,000 Sami continue to make their living by herding reindeer, and their traditional nomadic way of life is endangered. The modern world is closing in on them. Recreational snowmobilers, mining companies, even NATO military bases are encroaching on their remote domain.
But all is not lost. Chabuk and Tangen Jr. visit the Sami parliament -- an architecturally striking building, designed to resemble a Sami tent, or lavvu -- where they meet Sami politician and scholar Ole Henrik Magga, who tells them how the Sami people have organized to protect their rights and campaign for more self-determination. He describes how the Sami first mobilized in the early 1980s in opposition to a proposed hydroelectric dam, which would have submerged Sami grazing lands and the Sami town of Maze. A hunger strike in front of the Norwegian parliament in Oslo helped win the day for the Sami.
And in 2005, the Norwegian government passed legislation giving the Sami a more direct role in managing their lands and natural resources -- a victory that offers hope that the "reindeer men" will be able to continue their ancient way of life for generations to come.
Meanwhile, the hard-working Sami will take a break for the winter holidays. When Chabuk asked his Sami guide, Risten Lango, what she'll be doing for Christmas, she emailed back: "I'm in the mountains right now checking mail on my cell phone. Our Christmas traditions are silence from December 24 to 26. Only necessary activities should be done. All firewood for Christmas days should be brought in the house before Christmas evening. We have some Western traditional gifts. The elder people go to church, and, of course, they invite all of us to be with them. On the New Year eve, we predict how the summer will be ... exciting to consider, especially when its about 30 below."
During this winter season (at least in the northern hemisphere of our small planet), we invite you to gather 'round the warm glow of your computer screen and watch "Reindeer Men." And all of us at FRONTLINE/World wish you a Buorrit Juovllat -- Happy Christmas in Sami.
Peace and goodwill toward all,