REVIEW: ‘Gatekeepers of the Arctic’ puts face on climate change

Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic follows the challenges faced by Greenlanders in light of global warming. Photo courtesy of film company.
Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic follows the challenges faced by Greenlanders in light of global warming. Photo courtesy of film company.

Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic, which recently played the Margaret Mead Film Festival in New York City, is a 69-minute documentary about the changing lifestyle of the Inuit communities of Greenland. Their greatest peril is climate change, and they are living in ground zero of this international problem. Their warm seasons are growing longer, and the animals they rely on for subsistence hunting are no longer reliable. The ice is literally melting beneath their feet.

Director Corina Gamma splits the narrative into two sections. One part focuses on the Inuit hunters and their way of life in small communities located as far north as one can travel on this planet. There’s one telling quote from a woman in the film about the sun setting in October and rising again in February. They’re that far north, secluded from the rest of their country’s residents and the world in general.

The other part of the film follows a team of Swiss climatologists as they measure and study the ice in Greenland. Some of their science is revealed, but their most interesting revelations involve their dealing with the ever-shifting ice beneath their tented camps. Each year they return to the same spot, and each year their camp either falls apart or is located several meters in the air.

The visuals captured by Gamma are quite beautiful. More than anything else, she effectively documents the lives and occupations of these Greenlanders. She follows them on dog sleds and into the far reaches of the Arctic to hunt walruses, seals and birds. She stays in their houses to talk with the families who struggle over a dwindling food supply and changing temperatures. She also includes several talking heads — scientists and local officials — who speak of the challenges facing Greenland.

The film is not heavy on the facts behind global warming. Charts, tables and statistics are missing from the narrative, and perhaps that’s a good move on the part of Gamma. The documentary is more interested in showing the communities of people most affected by climate change and how these families are stuck in vulnerable positions.

The film begins with some nice narration to set the scene, but then it relies on lines of text to fill in some of the blanks. It would have been nice to continue the voiceover throughout the film, letting the voice take the viewer on this journey into the far reaches of the big island.

In many ways, Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic feels like a piece of cultural anthropology, a document of a way of life that is soon fading away. One of the final images in the film deals with the difficult decision that remote Inuit communities are facing: Should they stay where the hunting food has dried up, or should they move to the bustling capital and lose their traditions? So many cultural practices are being lost when the temperatures begin to rise.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic (2016), directed by Corina Gamma, recently played the Margaret Mead Film Festival at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Rating: ★★★½ Click here for more information.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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