Historical films about Greenland available online | Polarjournal
Scene from the silent film “A Journey to Greenland” from 1921. Photo: Screenshot Film Centralen

Greenland has long held a great attraction for explorers and researchers and has been the destination of numerous expeditions and research voyages over the last 150 years, aimed at expanding knowledge of the largest island on earth, but also of its people.The urge to explore the Arctic and Greenland was particularly strong between 1880 and 1930 and attracted many expeditions. At that time, photography had already been invented and film technology was also developing, which polar explorers like Knud Rasmussen knew how to benefit from. And so unique historical documentary films from the early voyages of the explorers are still preserved today, which the Danish Film Institute has been digitizing and making freely available online for years.

In collaboration with the Arctic Institute and the Greenland National Archive, the Danish Film Institute says it is digitizing a large number of previously inaccessible films about Greenland’s landscapes and cultures, some of which have disappeared over the years or changed due to climate change. In addition, there are documentaries, information films, private recordings and films of tourists from the early 1930s to the 1970s, which shed light on Greenland’s path to self-government as well as on Greenland’s business life.

To date, 188 historical films about Greenland have been digitized, including many silent films, which can be viewed free of charge on the Danish website Film Centralen. The Danish Film Institute received the equivalent of more than 300,000 euros from the Ministry of Culture in 2019 for a digitization project, with about 130,000 euros designated for Greenlandic films.

The silent film of the second Thule expedition (of seven in total) of the famous Danish polar explorer Knud Rasmussen to the north coast of Greenland in the years 1917-1918 with the “Hans Egede”. Video: 9 minutes, Source: Fim Centralen DK

As Lisbeth Valgreen, an ethnologist with a Master of Sciences in Eskimology and head of archives at the Arctic Institute, describes on the Film Centralen website, the digitized films are important for understanding early ethnographic and anthropological research in Greenland, and in particular, the early silent films can give a sense of life during this period, as well as the perceptions and interests of the expeditioners.

A few years after the end of the Second World War, in 1953, the Danish government of the time decreed that Greenland was now part of Denmark and should be developed into a Danish-style welfare society. In addition to Danish workers, tourists now arrived in Greenland by plane, and with them the rapidly developing photographic and film technology, which soon became manageable even for amateurs. And so, in addition to the documentaries, there are also numerous private films in the archives, such as “Holiday in West Greenland” from 1964.

The documentaries about the life of the Greenlanders are also particularly impressive. For example, the film “Working Women in Greenland” shows the daily working life of Greenlandic women in a fish factory during Danish colonial rule, which stands in stark contrast to their traditional way of life, which in turn is captured in early films from the 1930s.

Scene from the 1938 documentary film “Isolated Features from Life in Greenland” (silent film). Source: Screenshot Film Centralen

With increasing self-government and the rediscovery of their cultural identity, the Greenlanders’ interest in their history and traditions is also growing. The digitization of the historical films now helps to convey the original way of life to young Greenlanders and anyone else who is interested.

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

Link to the Danish Film Institute: https://filmcentralen.dk/museum/danmark-paa-film

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