Director Sarah Gavron was kind enough to sit down with The Vikings and talk a little about the documentary. Read on!
How did you come across such a fantastic topic?
The whole idea evolved very organically in a way. I had been doing fiction projects but wanted to return to documentaries because I had done documentaries in my earlier career. My husband David, who is Danish, had been to Greenland. So I had heard so many stories about this part of the world and we wanted to do a project together. And he actually suggested that we go on an adventure and see if there was a story and film in it. So we went off on this trip to Greenland! We ended up in Niaqornat and found out that there is a story to be told here about the traditional world versus the modern world.
One of the most difficult things is always to get permission to film, to get people on board. How difficult was it for you?
We got to know people a bit during the research trip where we didn’t take out the camera, just talked to people on the 3-week trip. And then we held a meeting at the village hall at the end of the trip and said, ‘look, we’re thinking of doing a film and we’d like to do a portrait of the community, would you be happy for us to do that?’. And they endorsed it. And that was the best way forth, we needed the permission of the community.
Did you stay with the community? The documentary goes through all of the seasons, did you stay there or move?
We went back and forth to England in between the filming trips. We edited in patches and then went back to film a bit more, and then went back to do a bit more editing. So quite a long process.
Now, this community is in such a remote place. What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you cope with it?
It was difficult to cope with that, I have to say I hadn’t realised how living without running water particularly difficult. And also not being able to get food that you’re used to because they only have a supply ship that came once every few weeks. It was really, really challenging to get food. The conditions for filming were difficult as well because obviously it was cold and either dark or perpetual daylight. And I have to say, the language was difficult… it’s such a difficult language to find a translator for.
So how do you create a relationship if you’re not directly communicating with the characters, but through a translator?
Well, you talk to the translator and then you hope the translator understands the mission for the film and they almost have to become the film-makers and they have to know what’s interesting and what’s not when they’re feeding back to you. It does make it harder but we found a couple of very good translators.
You follow different characters in this documentary. They all have separate stories but are all connected in some way or another. Was there as certain story that you felt really inspired by, or really moved by?
I think Lars in a way was key for us because he was someone living in this community, and he wanted to leave and he represented the pull of the modern world and how social media has changed his mental landscape. I also think he was the one that the audience identified with the most. So he was the one for us.
You’ve worked primarily in fiction, been really successful at it. Were you afraid of taking that leap and going straight into non-fiction?
Definitely. The open-end situation of the documentary, where you sort of don’t know what the story is going to be and you’re just watching to see what happens, and you’re at the mercy of what happens in true life. I mean on the other hand, in a fiction film you have a crew of about a hundred, huge pressure, huge financial pressure to make a successful film and you’re using a lot of money everything minute. With documentaries, you don’t really have those sort of pressures so in a way, if it doesn’t work the stakes are less high. So it’s liberating in that respect and you’re lighter on your feet, you can make decisions and change your movements very easily.
Do you think that the challenges you’ve illustrated that this specific community faces, are they common to other small communities around the world?
I think so. I think uncanny similarities. We’ve had people to see it from small communities in Cornwall or Wales who identify with some of the issues that Niaqornat faces. I think the world is now globalised, globalisation means the world is changing, that progress is kind of unstoppable so is there a place for these small communities? We wanted to raise questions but not necessarily answer them. Are they sustainable, can they continue to survive, and I’m not sure they can. But I hope that they can in some form, but are we just romanticising it? So it’s a very complex question and I just wanted to capture the complexity of it.
This documentary comes out on 10th May. What do you want people to take away from it?
I’m always interested in the human story, and the way people across cultures and generations can identify with different worlds. A film can transport you into a different world, and you can be absorbed and become part of a different community. Hopefully it’s entertaining and informative, and I hope it also makes people more aware and more open to raise issues about climate change and globalisation, and make people think about their lives and the way they lead their lives.