Review of “Village at the End of the World”

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Photo credit: http://www.villageattheendoftheworld.com/photos

Village at the End of the World is a 2013 British-made documentary about life in Niaqornat (70*N 52*W), a settlement with 52 inhabitants in northwestern Greenland. It is an extremely accurate portrayal of life in Greenland in terms of addressing current issues like identity, investment in the future and education, globalization, sustainable hunting, tourism, and Danish relations. Though this film only depicts the socially and physically small community of Niaqornat, these issues are universal. I recommend this film to anyone who wants insight into modern Greenland, but viewers should take care to realize that everywhere in Greenland does not look like Niaqornat in terms of size and structures.

Perhaps my only complaint about the film is its title. Sure, words and phrases like “remote” and “end of the world” are titillating to the average person, and I suppose that 293 miles/472 km north of the Arctic Circle does sound like the furthest place on Earth to most people…But these words are also plagued by the associations that the people living in this village are primitive or that you will not be able to relate to them. From my time in Greenland, I can tell you that that is certainly not true! I suppose that’s the plot twist viewers are supposed to learn for themselves, but my humble opinion is that the title would be better as “Village at the Top of the World” 🙂

On a personal note, watching this film is quite special for me. Seeing the nature but also seeing the people and hearing the language makes my heart happy. It is familiar, and it feels like home. The film is about as real as you can get because in a small country like Greenland, there are no stunt-doubles, props, or staging. For example, there is a scene where an Air Greenland helicopter lands at the settlement – I, myself, have sat in that exact machine! I have shopped in Pilersuisoq stores in settlements, and one really can find shoes for sale right next to the frozen goods. I know well the sound of walking through town and hearing sledge dogs howl, and even the radio broadcast you can hear in the film is the same as I listen to every day in Greenland.

I have not been to Niaqornat yet, but I have been to the general area twice. The Uummannaq Fjord is, and always will be, my favorite place in Greenland, so that’s another reason why watching this film was special for me. If you can find your way to Niaqornat or Uummannaq (it’s just one short flight, plus a very short helicopter ride, from Ilulissat), I highly recommend it! The air, mountains, and sky there are so pristine and distinct; they will be forever imprinted in the memories of all who set eyes on them!

A few more details about the film…

!!!! Spoiler Alert !!!!

One of the big themes of the film is that Greenland has a firm place at the table that is the modern world. It may be geographically far from some places on the globe, but isn’t everywhere? I agree with Sarah Gavron when, in her Director’s Statement, she calls Greenland “the heartbeat of our planet”.

The opening scene is quite poignant and makes the point that even in small settlements at the “end of the world,” there are people prioritizing the future and considering how to advantageously position the next generations so that they have a solid place in that future. Mathias, the schoolteacher, writes on the board, “What is my future?” and “I want to be…” and then opens up the floor to the young students. One boy wants to be a fisherman; one girl wants to work in Pilersuisoq, the “general store” of sorts; another boy wants to be a pilot. The teacher smiles at him approvingly and tells him that he must be good in English to become a pilot.

The modernity thread continues with the inclusions of technology throughout the film. At one point Lars, the protagonist, gets on Facebook and scrolls through his friends in Denmark, Mexico, and the United States. He says, “I feel close to other countries, even though they are far away,” (12:00). And later in the film you see that he dreams of visiting New York City one day. Another character, Ilannguaq, started his relationship with his girlfriend (a Niaqornat resident) via online dating! So yes, world, Greenland is firmly in 2014 with Internet technology! But they do have to pay an arm and a leg for such luxury 😉

Another theme in the film that is a bit more somber is that of identity and independence. It is primarily exhibited by the Niaqornat residents, who want to privately own and operate the fish factory that Royal Greenland shut down so that they can remain in their beloved home. But just peruse one of the Greenland newspapers, and you will soon see that the issues are oh-so-relevant at the national level, too. In the film, Karl (a hunter and the leader of the community) has a number of inspiring quotes, including:

“In my opinion, only we can secure our future” (22:58)

“We will need to act independently if this village is to keep its inhabitants” (46:25)

To find out if the Niaqornat residents buy the fish factory and preserve the existence of their settlement and the life they love, you will have to watch the film yourself!!

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