Some documentaries exist in order to tell an untold story and some exist to shine a light on an unknown location or group of people. The new film fro Sarah Gavron manages to do both brilliantly by documenting the struggles of a tiny village in north Greenland with a population of 59. The inhabitants of Niaqornat are beginning to realise that if their numbers drop below 50 then their existence is in peril so they must band together in order to save their village factory and continue their isolated but functional way of life.
The film spans four different seasons that the villagers have to endure including Kaperlak (“the time of darkness”) where they have no sunlight for a few months, and Sikusimaneri (“the time of ice”) where the sea freezes and the hunters go off to find polar bears. The scenery in this section of the film is mindblowing as the mountains, icebergs and the ocean all fuse together to make a snowy wonderland in which the villagers go for husky rides and play.
There are a few awkward moments in the film that show the villagers hunting whales, seals and polar bears that I imagine some audiences wont appreciate (wimps). There is also a interesting scene with Annie, the village elder, declaring her dislike of Bridgette Bardot due to her campaigning against the fur trade many years ago. After being told my whole life that the fur industry is evil I assumed that only shady and creepy hunters killed innocent mink and various other cute things to placate millionaire celebrities. It was interesting therefore to see the very human face at the other end of the fur 'industry' instead simply wanted to use as much of their dinner as possible in order to turn a small profit and not waste animal carcass. I'm still not really sure how I feel about it...
There is another strange moment in the film where a cruise ship filled with inquisitive Danes (are there any other type) arrive in order to witness some authenticity, and yet are provided with a welcome celebration with the villagers dressed up in traditional costume. This moment highlights the juxtaposition between the ‘real’ lives of the villagers and the image that is on display for outsiders (including the film audience). A tourist claims that they love the fact that nothing modern has touched the community in years – and yet earlier on we see Lars hanging out on Facebook. There is a double layer of pretense here the villagers putting on a show for the tourists, and the villagers putting on a show for the documentary crew.
Ultimately, the film is a beautiful insight into an icy paradise in an interesting part of the world, and also a window into the lives of a tiny community.