Returning to this photo of Saqqaq as I have just realized it was the setting for the fictional settlement Sermalik in the 1950s Danish film “Qivitoq” (qivittoq meaning mountain wanderer, or someone rejected from society or so grief-stricken they become hermits hidden in the mountains) which was the first feature-length film set and filmed in Greenland. Coincidentally there was a major fire near Saqqaq that has only today been extinguished after burning for two days.
It’s interesting that it features Greenlandic actors, who actually speak, and speak in Greenlandic and Danish, and have their own sub-plots. While it is largely what one would expect from a mid-century Danish film set in the exotic otherland of Greenland - nature shots, a man who has become ‘wild’ from being away from Denmark and must be ‘tamed’ by the civilized woman, that the Danes are more or less juxtaposed on top of Greenland and Greenlanders, and the Greenlandic characters are stereotypical, subservient and fairly one-dimensional and are often ignored - it is still beautiful, and though stereotypical (and they are clearly manipulated so that the Danish audience would find them comical) none of the Greenlandic characters could be considered caricatures. And it is interesting to consider that in the 1950s, when Greenlanders for the very first time began coming to Denmark in relatively larger numbers, and when private Denmark was for all practical purposes totally detached from the North Atlantic (if we could say that today, there is a minute connection as Faroese and Greenlandic issues occasionally make the national and international news), that Greenlandic would be heard by a broad Danish audience.
Although of course none of the Danish characters are fluent in Greenlandic; they only communicate to one another in Danish, to the slightly more ‘sophisticated’ Greenlanders who the Danish characters are trying to shape into commercial fishers they almost entirely speak Danish, and to the rest they speak half-Danish and Danified-Greenlandic, which comes across as patronizing baby-talk. For example, “Fisker ajunngilaq” (Fishing [Danish] is good [Greenlandic]), and a Danish pronunciation of ‘qivittoq’ sounding somewhat like “Krevitak”. It is important not to forget that despite being set and filmed in Greenland, it is not about Greenland or Greenlanders, and all of the characters are constructed from Danish prejudices. One particularly offensive moment is, when the Danish woman is waiting in the factor’s office, in the background a Greenlandic woman says to a secretary “You haven’t given me enough [benefits money].” Still this type of colonialist cinema is interesting, for it holds up an undistorted image of the Danish vision of Greenland, paternalism and noble savage-idealism and all, which can be critiqued and compared against less blatantly (but still implicitly) prejudiced depictions, to uncover their prejudices. It might be interesting, for example, to compare the relationships here with the recent American film “Big Miracle” which includes a flowery, friendly ‘culture clash’ as white news media and environmentalism invade Inupiaq land and life.