• Profile

Aka Hansen

Circumpolar Cinema

Aug 06, 2019
by Emily Henderson

Growing up between Denmark and Greenland, Nuuk-based Aka Hansen cannot remember a time that she did not want to have a camera in her hand, and she has since become a trailblazing member of the country’s new generation of emerging filmmakers. “I make films that I really want to see, because nobody else is making them here,” Hansen says. Following her success in 2009 with the first exclusively Greenlandic-language film Hinnarik Sinnattunilu, Hansen produced Qaqqat Alanngui (2011), which tells the story of a group of friends on a graduation trip to a summer cabin who become the target of a qivittoq—a hermit that has acquired super-natural powers while living in isolation on the land.

Most recently, she wrote and produced the pilot episode for the science fiction web series Polar (2017), which screened at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas, and is in the process of planning a documentary centred on her uncle and his experiences searching for his Danish father. While much of Hansen’s work is made with a Greenlandic audience in mind, her more personal exploration in Half and Half (2016) has appealed equally to international viewers. “I wanted to talk about the people that are mixed, or in between, or outside the boxes that we want to put each other in.” The short explores her blended heritage through contrasting scenes of the director in Greenland, donning traditional attire, and then moving mechanically through an unnamed Danish city. “I think my next projects will be more ‘inside out’,” she muses, “coming from here and going out into the world to tell a story about us. It’s time for that now.”

– Emily Henderson

HansenAka(Super16)PolarStill2 Still from the pilot episode of Polar, 2017COURTESY SUPER16
Emily Henderson: How did you get started in filmmaking?

Aka Hansen: I think I always had an interest in holding a camera in some way or another. I bought my first film camera when I was seven years old and I used to take so many pictures of my brothers. Later on, my uncle had a video camera and I was so excited to use it. I took a TV and Media class in high school, and that’s probably where I realized that you could actually make a living from making film. I enjoy film because it is so hands-on.

EH: What are some of the recent projects you have been working on?

AH: I produced and helped write the script for a pilot episode for a sci-fi web series set in Nuuk, Greenland called Polar (2017) that was screened at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival. It centers on the story of a young man and a supernatural sound that terrorizes youth in the community, making them want to harm themselves. After he survives a suicide attempt, he begins to see the world in a different way. It was actually a second-year midterm project from Super16 Film School in Copenhagen, where I recently graduated. I made it with four Danes and, as the only Greenlandic person there, I had the goal to make this project as relatable to Greenlanders as possible. It was well-received in both Greenland and Denmark, so I think I achieved my goal.

HansenAka(GreenlandFilmMakers)HalfandHalfStill2 Aka Hansen, Half and Half (still), 2016COURTESY THE ARTIST
EH: Can you tell me about your 2016 short film Half and Half?

AH: I was asked to be a part of a symposium at the Copenhagen University, and it was about reconciliation between Greenland and Denmark. I was the youngest participant there and I had been told that the other participants would bring new work to show. So, I was advised to bring something. I had wanted to do this project for a really long time but I did not know how. Sometimes the conflict and colonial history with Greenland and Denmark seems very black and white, but what I was trying to do was to talk about the people like myself that are mixed or outside the boxes that people tend to put us in. I had originally just made the film for myself, but then it turned out that so many people could either relate or understand so much from this film. That was a big surprise for me. It has been screened around the world now and received really well, so it resonates beyond Greenland and Denmark.

EH: What role does language play in the process of producing a film?

AH: That’s a really good question. The first feature film I produced was called Hinnarik Sinnattunilu (2009). It was also the first exclusively Greenlandic-language film ever made in the country. It’s so important to give people the opportunity to see film and media in their own language. For example, with film horror feature Qaqqat Alanngui (2011), we set the audience age limit to about 15 years old. We advised parents not to bring their young children because of the film’s graphic content. However, some parents would insisted on giving their children the opportunity to watch a film in Greenlandic, which for many of them was the first time they could understand a film from start to finish. That was a big eye-opener for me, because I have spoken both Danish and Greenlandic since I was young and I did not know this kind of representation could have so much meaning.

EH: Can you tell me more about Hinnarik Sinnattunilu (2009)?

AH: In English, the title translates to “Hinnarik and His Dream”. It was a family film, a comedy, but primarily intended for children. It’s a very simple story about a character named Hinnarik and he’s going through life and growing up. In the end, he finds out that the most important things in life is love. I compare him little bit to Napoleon Dynamite or Mr. Bean, a clumsy sort of anti-hero.

EH: Are there any projects you have upcoming or in the works?

AH: Currently, I am planning a project about my uncle. He was born in 1951. His father is a Danish fisherman, and his mother is my grandmother and he was her first child. Back in the 1950s, Danish men were protected by a law that said they had no responsibility for any children they had in Danish colonies of Greenland or the Farroe Islands. So, my uncle did not have any connection to his father because of that law. And, the craziest thing is this law was only withdrawn four years ago. At the age of 63, my uncle was finally able to go through a lawsuit and find out who his father was. The system knew all along and my grandmother knew, but she was unable to tell him as she had signed a document prohibiting her to tell anybody about this man. So, it’s a feature length documentary about my uncle and his story.

Still from the pilot episode of Polar, 2017COURTESY THE ARTIST
EH: What do you hope audiences take away from your work?

AH: First of all, I make films that I really want to see myself because nobody else is making them here in Greenland. A lot of the things that are shown about Greenland are from a Danish perspective. And they really like to portray us either in the idyllic—natural context—or as a country riddled with abuse and alcohol. I really want to show how I see Greenland and not through that binary. My goal right now is to contribute to that image in a more realistic way.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

This Profile appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.

Suggested Reads

Related Artists