Sumé: The Sound of a Revolution is a celebratory documentary that warmly reflects on the period of renewal within Greenland, moving away from Danish colonisation towards its own national identity. Inuk Silis Høegh’s film is remarkably pleasant throughout – and is as much a piece for fans of the band, the Greenlandic people they represented, but also as a rare insight into the culture and history of a country that isn’t widely talked about. Greenland’s history is often out of sight, despite being – as the documentary indicates – remarkably intricate and conflicted. The film begins with the period in 1973, where Sumé released their debut album – the first rock album every recorded in the Greenlandic language. In the context of colonisation, a band of students who’ve studied in Denmark releasing an album in the native tongue of the country is depicted as an obviously seismic shift in the way in which Greenland was able to define itself. This is made more poignant as one fan points out what the cover of the first Sumé album depicts: “a Greenlander who had hunted down and killed a norseman”, with a laugh. This opening exposition frames Sumé as a completely new, refreshing presence in the music scene in Greenland – or perhaps, more accurately, the beginning of a music scene in Greenland – with most previously coming from across the seas.
Sumé is undoubtedly at the centre of the film, however, Inuk Silis Høegh creates an inextricable link between the bands rise with the simultaneous growth of pressure towards the establishment promulgated by a hunger for independence within the country. As one of the members of the group asserts early in the documentary, the band existed because they “wanted to let Danish society know that we had problems in Greenland.” In Sumé the Sound of a Revolution, the band serves as a metaphor for a country’s national shift towards independence; and the documentary is as much about this as Sumé as it is the country in general.There are a few pieces of awe-inspiring archival footage of Sumé playing open air gigs amongst these huge landscapes; fjords, mountains, massive lakes. “We always enjoyed playing outdoors and you have to remember those outdoor concerts”, one member of the band reflects before another in group asserts: “We played in the daytime” and “It’s something you’ll never forget.” There’s a lot of gravity to these statements when they’re cut amongst actual footage of these concerts. To put it simply, they look incredible, and they celebrate and represent the very nature of what the Greenlandic people wanted.
Towards the end of the film it’s clear that the spectre of Denmark and the history of colonisation remains present for those at the centre of the documentary.“There is a lot of work to still be done. There are things to finish” concludes Aviâja E. Lynge, a fan of the band. It’s an optimistic statement, emerging from a place where the independence of the Greenlandic people is being celebrated. Sure, there are things to finish, but after everything that’s already been shown as conquered, it’s hard to believe they won’t be finished. It’s a quietly inspirational conclusion that sits in a strong tonal consistency with the rest of the equally uplifting film.
Sumé: the Sound of a Revolution isn’t a particularly experimental documentary. It uses archival footage of the band playing, and it intersperses it with people reflecting on the period and the wider implications and importance of what is happening in those videos. That is, in terms of the form of the documentary, there’s nothing really special going on whatsoever. Since this is the case, Inuk Silis Høegh is a director in a position of having to rely on the material and story he’s telling to be of an importance that makes up for the lack of anything spectacular on the editing and structural side of things. To put it simply: it is. There are few documentaries available worldwide that discuss the cultural side of the Greenlandic struggle for independence. Høegh has made a film that serves as a broader tale of this movement, with a fascinating subculture at the centre. Sumé is a largely worthwhile documentary that covers a strange dichotomy between an internationally unknown group that have an unprecedented adoration within Greenland. It’s a rare story told with a energising passion, and it’s definitely worth the watch.