Best known for her works of fiction – from BAFTA-winning TV drama This Little Life to 2007’s Brick Lane – Village at the End of the World sees director Sarah Gavron take on the role of documentarian, filming the inhabitants of a tiny Inuit community in northern Greenland as they try to restore their economic fortunes and halt the outflux of villagers seeking work elsewhere. We spoke to Gavron about the project’s origins, and the complexities involved in bringing the community’s story to screen.
Where did the initial idea to film in remote Greenland come from?
my husband [cinematographer David Katznelson] is Danish, and he’d been
to Greenland and made a documentary there some years ago [Arctic Crime and Punishment (2002)].
He was really keen for me to go there with him, so we went there on an
adventure with half an eye on making a film together. We ended up
visiting a few tiny hamlets, and I was immediately drawn to them – it
was just a world apart from anything I’d ever encountered before. When
we went to Niaqornat, which is the village that we focus on, we were
greeted by Illannguaq [the sewage collector in the film] who was the
only one who spoke English. He was really our way in – he explained the
whole mechanics of the village, and we spent time there and were made
welcome. So after that first trip we thought 'perhaps there is a story
here – one that tells of a traditional way of life fighting for
survival, which will connect, perhaps, with a global narrative of small
communities all over the world fighting for their existence’.
What was the shoot like?
Well, it was all about
going back and forth and spending quite a lot of time there. It was a
very tiny crew – there was me doing sound and directing, and David
looking through the camera. Sometimes I had to stand back and it was
just him with the camera and mic, alone – it sort of depended on the
situation. So it was a very reduced crew, and quite difficult
circumstances – you know, filming in the dark because they have
perpetual darkness in winter, [and] filming in very freezing conditions…
How long did the editing take?
It took an
enormous amount of time. Something that I hadn’t really anticipated is
that if you film in a foreign language, which I’d never done, then
you’ve got the added job of translating – and [it’s] a language that no
one in England speaks, so it wasn’t like we could find a translator
here! There were people in Copenhagen who came across and sat in the
edit suite and went through [the footage with us], and that was
enormously time-consuming, finding the little nuggets within the
Do you think that your work as a fiction filmmaker has influenced the documentary’s style?
think as a fiction director I find it very important to constantly
observe the real world and life around you, because in a way you’re
trying to create truth – you know, what would someone do if they’re told
that piece of news, how will they respond, will they cry, will they
laugh. So I’m really obsessed with observing how people respond to
things… And I suppose in documentaries you’ve got the truth laid before
you, so you’re just capturing what’s there. In documentaries, if someone
shows emotion, you obviously believe them, [whereas] in fiction you
have to work hard to create those moments. So it’s kind of a different
muscle in lots of ways, but obviously one does feed into the other.
Village at the End of the World plays the Glasgow Film Festival:
19 Feb - Cineworld 17 @ 18.45
20 Feb - Cineworld 17 @ 16.30