TWICE COLONIZED (Sundance FF2023)- Review by Leslie Combemale
I am reminded, watching Danish documentarian Lin Alluna’s Twice Colonized, that there is no right way I can talk about indigenous people, if I’m part of the colonial mentality. And of course I am, because by virtue of my birth and upbringing — first in France and then in the US — I have lived and breathed colonization my whole life. It is Aaju Peter, the subject of the film, who reminds me and all viewers of this truth through her words and actions. Peter is a well-known and respected Greenlandic Inuit and indigenous rights lawyer defending the rights of all indigenous people living with the inherent and continued oppression resulting from colonization.
Peter is complicated and so many things at once. At the best and worst of times, she dances alone to music by Inuit rock bands and to classic rock. She smokes, drinks Starbucks, and wears sealskin Inuit fashion. She stands for personal freedom and power, but has a volatile relationship with an abusive boyfriend. She’ll tell you any expectation on our part that she “look the part” of what we imagine an indigenous person should be is the height of colonial mentality. We the colonizers are allowed to evolve, why is that not true for indigenous folks?
Peter is pissed, and has every right to be. As a child, her family struggled to find enough food to eat. Like many Inuit kids, she was taken from her family when she was quite young and sent to Denmark to be educated. There, she lost most connection to her own language and tradition. Later, she moved to Canada, only to find indigenous citizens grappling with many of the same problems she saw in Denmark. When her son, the youngest of her five children, commits suicide, she says to those in government, “Shame on you. It doesn’t matter what job you do, mental health services, suicide prevention, healthcare, or social programs, you have failed. You are not doing you job.”
Much of the film is focused on Peter traveling to places from her past, working to transmute negative experiences into a source of strength for her future, and processing the loss of her son. Her mixture of tenacity and compassion is quite moving. There is a particularly beautiful and poignant scene between her and her brother, where they share painful memories and comfort each other after visiting their childhood home.
Alluna stays out of her subject’s way, and clearly created enough trust for Peter to reveal a lot of her experiences and emotions, to the benefit of the film’s audience. The film’s problem is there are a number of compelling leads in Peter’s journey that are left unfollowed. There’s little arc to the film. Perhaps, since Peter herself says she is working to make peace with her past and discover who she is now and in the future, the idea is to leave her story open-ended. Even assuming that intention, there still has to be a way for a filmmaker to create a story arc. So many parts of Peter’s life go undiscussed, unexamined, or uncovered — elements like her work as a visual and performing artist and clothing designer. We see her only briefly as a lawyer. All that could have been better touched on within the context of her dealing with the personal impact of colonization, and the catastrophe that is the loss of a child.
All that being said, Alluna provides a platform that allows Peter to reveal herself to viewers in authentic ways that are inspiring and engaging. She is, after all, just one woman, yet powerful enough to demand realignment and reconsideration of what roles we play in perpetuating colonial mentality. Peter said of herself, “We were born into straightjackets. In my own living, why am I continuing the mentality of straightjacket living?” Everyone could and should be asking the same question, as it relates to not only indigenous rights, but every aspect of how we exist together in society.
3 out of 5 stars.