Films

ThuleTuvalu

Matthias von Gunten
2014 | 96 minutes | Switzerland, Denmark, Tuvalu
New York Premiere | Director in Attendance

An elegantly conceived cautionary tale of climate change and how two communities at opposite ends of the Earth share a common—and chilling—bond. The inhabitants of Thule, which lies in the extreme north of Greenland, spend most of the year in temperatures up to 40°F below zero, hunting on dog-drawn sleds as they have for generations. On the narrow coral-reef islands of the small Pacific Ocean state of Tuvalu, fisherman live off the bounty of the sea and the coconuts and vegetables they have cultivated for centuries. In spite of this huge geographical and cultural distance, the two places are intimately connected by a stroke of fate: the ice in Thule retreats ever farther each year, feeding Tuvalu’s perpetually rising sea level. The impact is equally devastating, forcing dramatic shifts in the time-tested ways these communities have adapted to each environment. 

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Past Forward, My Perspective

"The transformation or vanishing of cultures is a main theme which drove me to make this film, nevertheless I keep it in the background, subcutaneous, but always present, like a basso continuo, throughout the whole film.

Since 2000 years, people in Thule and in Tuvalu have managed to survive in extremely difficult conditions and total isolation, due to their great abilities to read their surrounding nature. The Inuit hunters Rasmus and Lars, my protagonists, are able to survive and feed their families in the eternal ice. That‘s what they‘ve learnt, this is their pride, their culture, their identity. Patrick on the other side has learnt to make canoes, a skill which is crucial for surviving on a Pacific Island like Nanumea/Tuvalu. Now he constructs the first canoe for his little son.

Through the effects of the warming however, Rasmus, Lars and Patrick (and all the other people in Thule and Tuvalu) experience that their inherited crafts gradually lose their sense. Rasmus for instance, only 46 years old, sees his hunting grounds melt away, but he hasn’t learnt how to survive in warmer conditions or to fulfill the requirements for a paid job he might depend on in the near future. Beyond the question of survival, this becomes also a psychological issue: his inherited identity looses its value, the void ahead scares him. Patrick‘s situation in Tuvalu is comparable: due to the rising sea level and the foreseeable drowning of the island, he knows his son will never need the canoe he so proudly builds for him. But Patrick can’t live with this truth, he tries to ignore it. However, the main goal of the family is, as his wife explains, to send the children away to grow up in a safe country.

Cultures always changed or disappeared. But this is the first time in the history of mankind, that cultures vanish because the human species is transforming the whole planet physically and consciously. I don’t want to blame anybody for that with my film - since blaming doesn‘t help. But in these two significant microcosms, I want to witness this unprecedented historical process – and to open a door to a personal and deep reflection about it."

- Matthias von Gunten| Director, Thule Tuvalu