AIFVF: the Incredible Charm of ‘Arctic Superstar’

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April 3 marked the opening of the 44th annual Athens International Film and Video Festival at the Athena Cinema.

Excited movie-goers and festival volunteers made their way in and out of the cinema throughout the day to see films such as the surreal, emotionally thrilling Serbian narrative All Cities of the North, (when love goes nameless, it can feel weak,) the Haitian/American Death By a Thousand Cuts, (a murder investigation that grows into an examination of the conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic,) the German/Polish war narrative Hear the Silence, the examination of African style in Bangaologia, and several others.

Arctic Superstar, a documentary detailing the life of indigenous Sami rapper Nils Rune Utsi (stage name “SlinCraze”) screened early Monday evening. Utsi shares a home with his mother in the incredibly small, snowy, wind-swept town of Máze; doing everything in his power to find himself in a financially viable situation stemming strictly from his music creation. One of the major roadblocks he faces is in the fact that only 20,000 people in the world speak the dying Sami language, which he prefers to rap in.

To appease promotors, he also performs in English, Russian, Norwegian, but it becomes achingly clear to the viewer that he is most proficient in delivering his music in his native tongue.

Director Simen Braathen expertly crafts a narrative around Utsi’s many challenges; such as finding fellow artists to go on small tours with (most of the people his age in his area have families or one of the few “good” jobs in the region), performing for a group of only three people gathered in a high school for a show (all of whom were on the guest list) and generally trying to make it by.

The movie begs the question of the importance of language in the making of music – what it means to both the musician and the audience. For whatever reason, music not in one’s own primary language is often found to be slightly off-putting for many, although it truly is just another way to hook a verbal symbol system around a melody or riff.

What differentiates Arctic Superstar from your typical struggling musician documentary narratives is the fact that it seems like Utsi very well might have a chance, or at least he’s unwilling or unable to adopt an attitude that would convince him otherwise.

Keep up with WOUB Culture for more coverage of the Athens International Film and Video Festival, which is taking place through April 9.