‘This is an excellent animation, very creative, smart and talented. It should definitely be included in the archive.’
Katariina Lillqvist is a well-known Finnish-born Romani scriptwriter, director and producer whose animation films made her a highly recognised representative of this genre. She moved to Prague in 1989, where she worked at the Jiri Trnka Studio, named after the famous creator of wooden puppets in the former Czechoslovakia.
Laulu Hirsipuista (The Song Of The Gallows) is an episode from an animation series entitled Mire Bala Kale Hin (I Have Black Hair), which is about a Roma girl who is told fairy-tales about her own community and their origins. The series was also made in a Romani language version, making it probably the first animated series to tell legends in this language. Romani identity being presented through their tales (called paramisi) shows the importance in the community of the oral tradition and of their roots in their everyday lives and culture.
The Song of the Gallows is based on a medieval, seventeenth-century story about a magic violin that saves the life of a Roma man from the gallows. The Polish princess Katarina Jagellonica arrives in Finland in order to get married to Duke Juhana; after listening to the Romani musician playing his instrument she agrees to his request that all the gallows should be torn down in the country to save the Roma from execution. The Song of The Gallows is a historical work of self-representation. Since the story has historical references built on ancient and mythical figures, the fairy-tale has become an animated reality, presenting discriminatory practices in a historical context.
The widespread stereotypes are exaggerated in most of the stories by means of fairy-tale techniques, which raises the question of whether they are consequently being reinforced. Lillqvist’s story is not only about the gallows, persecution and displacement, but also about how the pieces of the destroyed gallows have been transformed into a violin – hence the song of the gallows, which serves as an allegorical visualisation of the voice of the Roma. This symbolic reading of the story relates the film to Lillqvist’s main topic: freedom and the power of independence, wrapped in the origin legends of the Roma and expressed by the tool of animation. In the beautifully developed stage settings, the puppet characters ‘act out’ stories about Roma which have been passed down from one generation to another. Although Lillqvist’s animated stories do not intend to capture reality, the tales, based on historical facts, sometimes seem to be re-enactments of episodes in the chronicles of the Roma.
Mire Bala Kale Hin was made in co-production with three national television companies (Finland, Czech Republic and the Netherlands) from 2001 to 2003, and has since been shown at dozens of film festivals, screens and exhibitions (such as the Gezici Festival and Clermond-Ferrant Short Film Festival). It has become one of the most well-known animations (and probably the first made of puppets), not only in Finland, but across Europe as well.
Lillqvist with her film company, Film Cooperative Camera Cagliostro, also produced a documentary from archival film footage called Eihän tämä maa minun omani ollut part (This Country Was Not Mine), about the life of the Finnish Kale Romani people and the power of song in the community.