Stephen Smith, one of the directors of “Vanishing Point”, wrote to me a couple of months ago. He asked if I would care to watch his film, produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Apart from a very fine recommendation by late Peter Wintonick, there had been no real attention, he wrote, even if the film – see website, link below – has been going around to mostly Canadian festivals. I got the dvd and started to watch and was immediately brought back down memory lane – Greenland and the many Danish documentaries made from there, especially by Jørgen Roos (1922-1998), who for decades returned to adventurous Greenland to film the hunting culture and the conflicts between traditional way of living and what we Danes has taken with us to Greenland. If anyone Roos has visualised inuit in Greenland. My vision of the island comes from him.
Roos would have loved “Vanishing Point” that is a very well told and beautifully filmed story, non-sensational in a calm rhythm and with a charismatic leading Navarana K’Avigak Sørensen – more Danish can a surname not be! Navarana is the one who tells the story in first person tracking her own family roots back to Qitdlarssuaq, a shaman, who in the 1860’es migrated with a small community of Inuits from Baffin Island to the North of Greenland. Navarana is the descendant, who takes the viewer by the hand to show and reflect on the Inuit culture of today up there near Uummannaq, where her family used to live until they were displaced due to the building of the American Thule base (Jørgen Roos has made a film about this Danish-American scandal).
Naduk is the daughter of Navarana or did I get that wrong… doesn’t matter, Navarana goes with her family (Naduk’s husband is Ole… again more Danish
can a first name not be) out hunting, it’s in May and the ice used to be thick, but now there is danger that the dogsled will sink into the water. The camera catches the beauty of the nature and the equally beauty of the faces of three generations on hunting. One sequence is amazing: No words behind the images of the auk seabirds, who in hundreds (thousands?) fill the sky going to and fro or rather trying to escape the nets brought to catch the birds. Totally non-dramatic you watch the catch, the strangling and the putting the dead birds into sealskin bags that are to rest some month under rocks – and then the delicious kiviaq dish can be served, Navarana and her family say.
The last long part of the film takes Navarana to where Qitdlarssuaq came from, the Bassin Island. She discovers that the culture there has developed in quite another direction – “here life runs on gasoline and and sugar”. She goes hunting a narwhal, that is shot from a motor boat, whereas – to be seen later when she is back in Greenland – where she comes from the whale is first harpooned from a kayak and then shot. Mattak is a delicatesse and Navarana enjoys.
The text of Navarana that is conveyed voice-off, or to the camera is good – like when she is to sum up the situation of the inuits of today: “The World is Melting Under Our Feet” – but maybe also too demonstratively pointing at the theme, letting her repeat sentences like “what do we get when we go to our places” and “what do we lose when we leave”. On the other hand you trust Navarana’s unsentimental approach, an inuit elder she is described being in the synopsis of the film, well she is definitely not old in mind, perfect as a film character. “Qitdlarssuaq is in my blood”. Thanks for updating my vision of inuit culture in Greenland seen (also) on the background of the culture in Canada.
Canada, 2012, 82 mins.