Village at the End of the World is a seductive documentary and it succeeds in its seduction in a number of ways; for a start, it clocks in at 78 minutes, during which time the audience are taken on a fulfilling and heartfelt journey from an intriguing introduction to a seemingly final conclusion, opening up for all sorts of possibilities to take place once the film is finished. The film also introduces a small selection of characters, who are returned to again and again. These repeated interactions with those who become ‘characters’ gives the audience a sense of satisfaction when they have seen growth in what they have achieved over the span of the year in, which the film takes place. By having these carefully chosen participants, Sarah Gavron and David Katznelson have also coerced the audience into finding themselves in these people from a completely different part of the world, in a completely different situation. But those who have been chosen are everyday people and therefore the audience are forced to grow close and comfortable with them. Finally, Village at the End of the World also gives a sense of time to the audience, something they can firmly clasp onto throughout the film, which allows them to realise that this is the same reality, which is happening alongside their own in another part of the world.
Shot over the course of a year in Niaqornat, Northern Greenland, Village at the End of the World is a beautifully shot and warm documentary, which fully immerses itself into a remote village, with a population of only 59 people. Both the technical and storytelling skill of Gavron and Katznelson is such that there isn’t one moment that isn’t absorbing as this is really telling a core tale of human survival. The film principally follows a selection of people who live in the village; Annie, who is the village’s oldest living inhabitant at the age of 76 starts the film by explaining that she is related to almost every member of the community. She looks lovingly out of the window and points to members of her family, where they live and their connections with other people. She is the part of the village, which lives so comfortably in the past and cannot fathom having to live anywhere else, even when there is the danger of the village becoming uninhabitable. Moving on from Annie and representing a completely different attitude to this village life is her grandson, Lars, the 16-year-old who wants to move away and go to university. “It is lonely being a teenager here – there are no internet cafes, no bars, just the shop,” he explains about his simple and lonely sounding life. He works in the shop with his mother, who he thinks off more as a friend than a parent because he was effectively brought up by his grandparents. He understands his life in the village and is excited to think about the world outside that he can explore. He uses computers to bring that outside to him but honestly, that isn’t enough.
The chief of the village and the head hunter is Karl who is especially interesting within the film because he is mostly concerned about the economic structures of the village at present and in the future. Whilst Annie reminisces about the past and Lars yearns to see more of the world, Karl is very much focusing on the here and now; what he has at his disposal and what can do with it to make the best of all situations. Whilst he best manages to combine traditional spiritual and hunting methods with 21st century principles, Karl primarily concentrates on stirring a sense of community in the village and finding new ways to re-open the fish factory, which once was once so lucrative. He worries that if the factory doesn’t continue and he doesn’t pass his methods onto the younger generations of the village about how to hunt and gather successfully, that the village will eventually die out and the ways in which it once made money and harvested food would end without leaving a mark on the world. This is one of the major themes of the film, which is returned to over and over – this apparent tension between the changes over time and the belief that without their traditions, which once held this community together so tightly, everything would fall apart into ruin.
The last character, which the film looks at is Ilanngauq, the refuse and sewage collector. He is the outsider in the village because he moved there from South Greenland after falling in love with a girl from this community. His main tension in the film is finding a place for himself and feeling as if he should really belong here. His storyline is such, that he draws many comparisons to Lars but whilst Lars wants to get away and find himself a new life somewhere larger, Ilanngauq is more interested in cementing himself into this community. The joy of Village at the End of the World is seeing how the ‘characters’ develop over time, and whilst Ilanngauq is initially the ‘shit shoveller’, by the end of the film he has started a tourism arm to the village and become the self imposed tour guide for those coming on cruises to this part of the world.
Whilst the film is primarily concerned with the small stories from each of those that we follow, there is also a vibrancy to the life they all lead; we watch days and routines, admire school lessons and town meetings all the while comparing the lives of those in this small village of Niaqornat to the ones that we lead in our vast cities with highways, Starbucks on every corner and smart phones in everyone’s pockets. Are there comparisons between their lives and us? Yes. But the enjoyment of the film is seeing that and working out the drastic changes in the world, which have lead us to where we now find ourselves. What is also illuminating about Village at the End of the World is the emphasis on the economic throughout the film; they are, to a greater or lesser degree, controlled by big companies outside the village who have closed down their fish factory and therefore shut off a major money maker – the coming together and planning to re-open the factor is one of the biggest story lines of the film and reminds the audience how similar and fragile we all are throughout the world.
Village at the End of the World is tantalising documentary, full of real emotion and intriguing until the very end. It just leaves the audience wondering, what is next for this community?
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