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Hot Docs 2016 Interview: Katja Gauriloff on KAISA'S ENCHANTED FOREST

Kaisa's Enchanted Forest is a very personal documentary for filmmaker, Katja Gauriloff', as it relates the Skokt Sámi culture and history of her great-grandmother, Kaisa (pictured left). Kaisa's story is inextricably linked to Swiss writer, Robert Crottet, whose dreams/hallucinations while suffering from tuberculosis, direct him to seek out the magical creatures and stories of northern Finland write about and film his experiences there. Below is my brief interview with the director of this fantastical documentary.

donna g: Most of us never have the opportunity to know our great-grandparents, but you knew your great-grandmother, Kaisa. She died when you were a child, but do you recall some of the stories she told you or is your knowledge based on the archival footage?

Katja Gauriloff: When I was a kid as I can recall things, our granny was already very old and lost her memory. I can remember some moments with her but she was already living in her past.

In that time she didn't tell stories anymore. When my mother was a child, she and her siblings always listened to her stories in the evenings, so I have heard about the stories told by my mom, aunties and uncles. It was mainly atmosphere and tones, but the real information I got by researching the archival footage and the sound recordings from the 1950’s.

donna g: What was it like to see your great-grandmother on screen? 

Katja: Wonderful! magical! I also saw my other family in the footage, aunties and uncles as kids so it was a true treasure for me.  I was also a bit worried to make a film in the beginning because I read that Kaisa never understood "why to put people walking on the sheet on a wall.” And that was my plan: to put her on a white sheet on a  wall.

donna g: Kaisa's friendship with Robert Crottet is extraordinary! Did you ever meet him? Were you aware of his fundraising initiatives that helped postwar Skolt Sámi move off reservations?

Katja: I never had a change to meet him but I always knew about him. He was like an extended family member. I always used to hear stories about him! I didn't know about the effort he put into helping my people. I knew about the books but didn't know about the fundraising. That was something I learned while researching the film.

donna g: Your documentary is almost like a dreamscape in the way it depicts Kaisa's life and her stories. Fantasy and reality blend in such a way that I feel as captivated by the land and culture as Robert did when he visited the Skolt Sámi community. Could you share how you determined the colour scheme as well as your choice of animation?

Katja: The original idea was to mix reality with fantasy, archive footage with fiction and animation. I’m happy we succeeded so well. Everything is based on Robert’s texts from Enchanted Forest and the footage they shot with my family. But I also wanted to bring one original legend of Kaisha's onto the screen. I found this amazing genuine recordings from the 50’s. To animate the legend was crazy because the stories have always been only oral heritage. Unfortunately, Kaisa was the last person to tell these stories in our family. I don't know if there is anyone left who can tell these legends.  I tried to do it in a respectful way, so the animation is, of course,  my own vision and perception of the legend.  I wanted this animation to be as close to "handicraft ” as possible-- that’s why it’s hand drawn by one artist.

donna g: The hard framed edges of the archival wartime footage is in contrast to Kaisa's world and reinforce the harshness of that time period. Was it difficult to find the British audio of people expressing their positive and negative views about helping the Sámi people?

Katja: All that audio is remade with actors and all the text we used was from Robert Crottets’ memoirs. From Britain, it was impossible to find any of the archive sound material from that time concerning to our people. We used a lot of time researching, but didn't succeed. But blending reality with fiction material was my original idea so it wasn’t a problem.
donna g: What has been the most rewarding thing about making this film?

Katja: That moment when we got the first rough cut of the film done. That was the moment I really believed we can make this. The story was very complicated and to find the right material was hard. But I really hope the most rewarding thing is still coming. I still haven't shown the film to my people. Their opinion about the film is everything to me. -END-

Tuesday, May 3, 7pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4
Thursday, May 5, 4:15pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 3
Sunday, May 8, 5:45pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 4

Click here for details/buy tickets
Box Office 416.637.5150
All photos courtesy of Hot Docs


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