Deprived from a red carpet world premiere at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theatre due to the spread of coronavirus, the Danish documentary described by festival director Tine Fischer as “an incredibly relevant film from within the eye of the storm”, will still be available in an online version during the festival (March 18-29).

The Fight for Greenland explores Greenland’s right to independence through the portrait of four strong, young Greenlandic activists, who each want to take responsibility for the future of their country.

The film was produced by Ulrik Gutkin for Copenhagen Film Company Short & Doc, in co-production with Greenland’s Jørgen Chemnitz and Norway’s Benedikte Bredesen, with co-financing from DR, NRK, RÚV, support from the Danish Film Institute, Nordisk Film & TV Fond, Fritt Ord, AP Møller Fund and the West Danish Film Fund. DR Sales handles world sales. 

You’ve made several documentaries from the Arctic region. Where does this fascination come from?
Kenneth Sorento:
Visually the landscapes are amazing and the people living on the edge of the world are fascinating to me.

Then I was on an ice-break expedition in 2012, related to the so-called Danish Continental Shelf project in which the Kingdom of Denmark tried to claim large parts of the North Pole at the United Nations.

What struck me is that in 2009 the Danish Parliament passed a law declaring Greenland’s right to independence, but at the same time, the same Parliament gave a large sum of money to a research concerning the extension of Greenlandic borders in the Arctic. I thought-why is the Danish government investing so much in helping Greenland to extend its territory, when they know that Greenland wants its independence? That’s what started this long journey.

The Fight for Greenland is perhaps the first film portraying contemporary Greenland, with empowered youngsters as main protagonists…
KS: Most films made about Greenland and Greenlanders could easily be split into two groups: those depicting the noble Inuit and those the socially-outcast Inuit for whom we feel pity. But then when I started filming in 2014, I met a generation of young Greenlanders that I had never seen before on screen. I felt their story had to be told from their perspective.

Was it an advantage or a drawback for you as a Danish filmmaker, to explore Greenlanders’ plight for independence? Was is difficult to gain local people’s trust? 
KS: I believe everyone should be allowed to film people from any perspective. My advantage is that I do not live In Greenland. The minute you do that, you are entangled in this difficult debate, and everyone is afraid to take sides. I would say that my personal background as a Dane raised in Spain shaped me in a certain way. I see my country from a different perspective and feel almost like a foreigner in Denmark. That has made it easier for me to make this film.

Also, I’ve invested a lot of time in Greenland. I had a daily life there for eight months over a three-year period and spoke to many different Greenlanders - from the Prime Minister to the taxi driver. I did a huge job to understand the situation. Many things surprised me.

For instance?
Greenlanders feel estranged in their own country. They feel that modern day Greenland has been built according to the Danish model. But many Greenlanders say this model doesn’t fit their country. It is based on a system created for a flat country, without mountains, 4,000 kilometres away. Denmark is shaped by an agrarian society, but Greenland is not! It’s an arctic country where you have to hunt for food. That brings totally different values.

Language is also an important element that shapes people’s identity and in the film, we can see that this is a very sensitive issue…
The most debated topic in Greenland for the last 40-50 years has been language-the use of Danish language in Greenland. Greenlanders want to reform their country by having Greenlandic as the main language. It is the official language, but in real life, Danish is used for all administrative matters and by the more educated people who can then access better jobs.

How did you find your four main characters?
KS: Finding people who would meet me - a Dane - was difficult then convincing them to be part of the film was another battle. I also needed charismatic characters, activists who would not only speak but act. This was very difficult in an Inuit collective society, where speaking out loud is not viewed positively. You have to be brave to do that.

Your background is in cinematography. How challenging was it for you to direct your first full-length film?
KS: Many people didn’t believe I was able to pull this through but I I have worked on several one-hour documentaries and other formats and I know my strengths and weaknesses. I hired the editor Peter Winther who has a lot of experience in multi-plot stories. I knew he could push me and he did a fantastic job.

Could you detail your visual choices?
In documentary filmmaking there is a tendency to privilege content, what people say, to the detriment of images and sound. But to me the whole package is crucial. I can work very naturally with five sound channels at the same time with a high-end camera as my background is in camera work and sound. Depth of field, what is sharp-not sharp are key. This means that when people move I constantly change the focus, but never to the detriment of the story.

How was your collaboration with your Greenlandic co-producer Jørgen Chemnitz?
KS: For the same reasons as with the characters, I struggled to find a co-producer - or anyone -  willing to tackle the burning issue of independence. Ultimately, I found Jørgen. Without him, we would not have had a film. He was a wonderful cultural interpreter. What is confusing is that in Nuuk, the well-educated people speak Danish and know about Denmark, but then they have their own culture and background and what they say has to be interpreted in a different way, even when said in Danish. Then working with the Greenlandic assistant director Mali Kleist who was closer in age to the characters than me, was also essential.

Have the characters seen the film?
KS: In January we showed them a late rough cut. They were very pleased, even moved and one of the characters said: “it feels like this film was told by a Greenlander. “This was the best reward ever.

Ultimately what did you want to achieve with this film?
The film is really about what it means to belong - when can you call yourself a Greenlander, a Dane? With globalisation, this discussion has never been more important. People both need to find happiness in different places around the world, but also to be rooted.

These two elements often clash. Also, in Greenland, as it’s a very small society, people are not used to debating. I hope this film will make this biased debate about identity and independence more open. I believe in dialogue. Then I hope the dialogue between Denmark and Greenland will improve.