“It’s no longer the question of ‘why’,” says Aaju Peter to a group of young students. “It is ‘how’.” Peter is a Greenlandic Inuit lawyer, an activist and a campaigner for the rights of indigenous people around the world. She is the calm, confident and dynamic subject of Danish director Lina Alluna’s first feature-length documentary Twice Colonized, which opened the 2023 Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival. (Also read: Away review: Danish doc details anxieties of self-isolation)
Twice Colonized dives into the personal to confront the political through its subject. We are first acquainted with the details of Peter’s life first, how she was born in Greenland first and then sent to Denmark by her parents for school, an experience that stripped her out of her own culture, including the ability to communicate in her own native language. In a few years she is married to a Canadian Inuk in Greenland with whom she moved to Nunavut. Alluna follows these details with a directness that oozes out of her subject. In fact there are also moments of sporadic humour when Peter refers to her director as “her colonizer”, and tells how her current abusive boyfriend who she is struggling to leave, thinks that she is in a relationship with Alluna.
Working with cinematographers Iris Ng, David Bauer, Glauco Bermudez, Alluna allows the narrative to be simultaneously punctuated by close-ups in the private moment’s and go for wide shots when Peter positions herself in public spaces talking about indigenous rights, and gives a speech at the EU headquarters in Brussels. Her expression of composure is key in one of the scenes where she sits with the change makers who talks about the difficult journey ahead. Yet, in one particularly vulnerable moment she breaks into tears as she shows the song her youngest son used to sing. Peter reveals that he committed suicide at a young age. Teen suicide has grown tremendously over the years, she says- the hardships and humiliation their people face is a conversation no one wants to hear. Grief is the force that nourishes Aaju Peter to stand up and fight- and Twice Colonized documents that with quiet, understated power.
The first half of Twice Colonized is strikingly poignant in first addressing how Peter’s life assimilates itself to recognize the need for reforms with regards to indigenous rights. The second half, meanwhile, is more fragmented, focusing on her road to healing (by visiting places and people in her hometown with her brother) and then marching along with her active campaigning efforts. These elements stretch too far and wide, and ultimately fall short in balancing out the narrative fabric of Twice Colonized, in heading towards the call for action in the many scattershot moments around Peter’s journey as a Human Rights Activist. Mark Bukdahl’s editing rather tries to do the abrasive, constantly surprising subject justice by keeping the many points disguised into quick moments- anything more deliberately convincing wouldn’t have made the landscape of questions and understanding work. Olivier Alary, Celina Kalluk and Johannes Malfatti’s score is sparse and effective in channeling the urgency of Peter’s work as an activist.
Aaju Peter’s fascinating personality shapes and contributes to the force of Twice Colonized, that amplifies the necessary conversations around the history and representation of Inuit culture into action. The discussion is what needs to be positioned first, whether one agrees to the position Peter holds or the choice of language she chooses to communicate in.