In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of London, where the film festival took place last week, Village at the End of the World, a new documentary by Brick Lane director Sarah Gavron, transports the audience to one of the most remote places in the world and captivates them with beauty and simplicity.
Niaqornat in northwestern Greenland is a village so secluded that with 59 inhabitants, people are outnumbered by dogs. In her new portrait documentary Gavron follows, and intricately links, the lives of four very different residents over the course of a year.
Ane is one of the chosen ones, a charming lady and the oldest woman in Niaqornat. She is our window into the village’s customs and the stories of the past. Lars, on the other hand, is the only teenager, and unenthusiastically tells us that there are no internet cafes, no hotels, no restaurants, and only one shop in the village. Even though the number of friends he has in the village may be limited, he proudly proclaims that he has 366 Facebook friends from all around the world.
The teenager has a complicated relationship with his father Karl, who is the chief hunter and village mayor. It is Karl’s responsibility to keep the village together and preserve their future. Then we have Ilannguaq, the sewage collector, who says he is referred to as the ‘village clock’. He is one of the latest additions to the village after meeting his wife online and moving to Niaqornat five years ago.
We observe how the ice and the seasons dictate how the villagers live their lives and what quickly becomes apparent are the wider issues that the community faces as a whole. Niaqornat’s very existence is threatened economically and ecologically and together they must find a way to fight these threats.
As a viewer, while we become intimately acquinted with the characters and the village, you cannot help but notice the striking backdrop of the mountains, the snow and the icebergs, all of which are all beautifully captured by cinematographer David Katznelson.
But beware, not all of the scenery is beautiful. You may at times get a bit squeamish at the sight of blood as Niaqornat remains a traditional hunting village and whales, polar bears and seals are not just animals to look at in a zoo. On top of that, as Gavron captures the various seasons, there are times when you can hardly see anything at all because of the pitch-black winter months, which is a simple reality for those up north.
There is no voiceover in Village at the End of the World, which is good because it allows the residents to narrate their own stories and lets us get past the stereotyping. The pace can seem quite slow at times but this is only a reflection of life in Niaqornat, and even though the film covers some very serious topics it is also tinged with humour.
Set against the cold climate, Sarah Gavron’s tale of the Niaqornat villagers is a heartwarming one, especially since the major theme of survival is one that is being faced by many more small communities around the world.