'Sumé - The Sound of a Revolution' ('Sumé - mumisitsinerup nipaa'): Berlin Review

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

This archive-heavy documentary profiles Greenland's first rock band, who sang in their native language and helped inspire a new era of cultural independence

The first film from the vast Arctic territory of Greenland ever to play at the Berlinale is a highly engaging mix of music documentary and history lesson. Revisiting the 1970s heyday of Sumé, the first rock band ever to sing in the Greenlandic language, The Sound of a Revolution is also an inspiring portrait of a culture slowly emerging from centuries of colonialism. Though the native population are Inuit in origin, the largest island in the world has been ruled by Denmark for over 200 years.

Greenlandic director Inuk Silis Høegh tells a charming story with an easy rhythm. There are echoes of Searching for Sugar Man in his mission to shine a light on a cult band from the margins of rock history, though The Sound of a Revolution is a more straightforward affair without any tricksy narrative concealment. Further film festivals with musical, political and post-colonial themes should take an interest. After that, small screen platforms seem more likely than theatrical.

In 1972, four Greenlandic college students formed Sumé after meeting far from home in Denmark. Their charismatic long-haired singer Malik Høegh chose to write lyrics in the Greenlandic language, a significant political statement at the time, especially since he specialized in poetically barbed protest songs against Danish colonialism. Even if the band's soft-rock melodies sounded deceptively mellow, their first abum featured a cartoon of an Inuit native dismembering a Norse invader. Hard to miss the subtext, however darkly comic the image.

In an era of left-wing student activism, Sumé found a keen young audience both in Greenland and Denmark, releasing three albums between 1973 and 1977. But as political tensions grew within the band, Høegh and fellow guitarist Per Berthelsen agreed on an amicable split when they returned home at the end of their studies. However, their cult success sent ripples through Greenlandic culture. Several generations of younger rock musicians, some of whom appear in this film, followed their example by singing in their own language. Berthelsen went on to serve in the Greenlandic parliament as it became slowly but steadily more autonomous from Denmark.

A co-production between Greenland, Denmark and Norway, The Sound of a Revolution combines footage old and new. In the contemporary material, the members of Sumé reflect on their 1970s antics alongside interviews with fans, friends and Greenlandic public figures. Between rare clips of the band's live performances, the film-makers smartly layer their studio songs over a montage of scratchy home movies and Super 8 footage of Greenland in the 1970s. Mostly crowd-sourced via social media and local adverts, this treasure trove of collective memory is also being archived separately online.

Skimpy in length, this rich story could have benefited from a little more heft and hinterland. Sumé briefly reunited in both 1988 and 1994, and still occasionally play together, but Høegh only mentions these later comebacks very fleetingly. He keeps the story firmly grounded in the 1970s, supplying only scant clues about how these former hippie protest singers have progressed musically, politically and personally. The Sound of a Revolution has all the sunny charm of a greatest hits collection, but it feels like more gritty, challenging concept album may lurk within.

Production company: Anorak Film
Director: Inuk Silis Høegh
Producer: Emile Hertling Péronard
Cinematographer: Henrik Bohn Ipsen
Editor: Per K. Kirkegaard
Sound Design: Jon McBirnie and Rune Hansen
Sound Mix: Rasmus Winther
Sales company: DR Sales, Copenhagen
Unrated, 73 minutes

 

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