Conférence commémorative Spry 2002

« Les résidents de Igloolik ont appris, via des histoires, qui nous sommes et d’où nous venons sans langage écrit depuis 4000 ans. Et puis des missionnaires étrangers, des écoles et la câblodistribution ont mis sous silence tout ce temps d’histoire orale. Peut-on écouter nos aînés avant qu’ils ne nous quittent tous ? Peut-on empêcher nos plus jeunes de s’entretuer à une vitesse qui dépasse de dix fois le ratio national ? Le fait de produire des émissions de télévision à Igloolik peut-il rendre plus forts notre communauté, notre région et notre pays ? Y a-t-il de la place dans l’espace télévisuel canadien et dans la réalisation de films pour voir notre réalité ? » Zacharias Kunuk demande aux jeunes et aux plus vieux, aux artistes, aux créateurs, aux citoyens et aux décideurs politiques de travailler ensemble et de penser à garder en vie l’art public du conte inuit.

Transcription disponible uniquement en anglais

Introduction by Catherine Murray

I would like to extend a welcome to our 7th Annual Spry Memorial Lecture series featuring Zacharias Kunuk, the director and producer of the astounding feature film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Over 20 years ago Zacharias Kunuk brought the first video camera to Igloolik, and watched all his community gather around. Since then, he has produced and directed almost 30 documentary and dramatic films. The community origins of his craft remain: it is fair to say it is the village of Igloolik that raised the child Atanarjuat. Zacharias has been president and co-founder of Isuma productions, Canada’s first Inuit owned independent production company, dedicated to creating Inuit community-based media production. Isuma is releasing the soundtrack and companion book to the film at the end of this month, so it is very good news to hear the story lives on.

The Spry memorial series was created in 1996 by an endowment from the friends and family of the late Graham Spry, one of the pioneer figures of Canadian public broadcasting. The Spry series is offered by Simon Fraser University in partnership with the University of Montreal every year. This lecture tonight is the third in Vancouver’s program this year, following a screening of Atanarjuat and a master class with Zacharias among students and local filmmakers. I would like to acknowledge the superb support of the Office of the President, the Dean of the Faculty of Applied Sciences, the School of Communication, and particularly Denyse Zenner and Sue Jamieson at SFU for making this event possible. We would also like to acknowledge the Chief Dan George Centre for Advance Education and the Arctic Museum Society for being such generous hosts.

We are honored that Zacharias has been able to join us after a whirlwind of international acclaim following his film’s winning of the Camera d’Or at Cannes last year, a number of Genies including best picture and best soundscore and over 15 other international awards from festivals as far away as Edinburgh, and Toronto. We are in the presence of a truly great storyteller, and one who is taking the traditions of the Elder in Inuit culture to new vistas.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of CBC TV, something Graham Spry would have celebrated and used as a platform for social activism. What is the place of aboriginal people in Canadian TV today? In Graham Spry’s day, they were an important reason for the creation of public broadcasting: Spry believed that without the Canadian state and the creation of our public broadcaster the CBC, our original ancestors would have no hope in a sea of American popular culture, any more than any other community across Canada. He was around for the creation of the Northern Native Broadcasting Program and he applauded it. He would be shocked to discover there is still just one CBC radio network in the North, but cautiously optimistic that much of the responsibility for original production of documentary and news has devolved to the separate Inuit Broadcasting Corporation or the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, the APTN, contributing further diversity to the system. Such devolution to creators in special minority broadcasting would in Graham Spry’s view, be no substitute for a healthy, general public broadcaster who is specially charged with representing cultural minorities in Canada to mainstream culture.

A recent study entitled Silent on the Set conducted by SFU’s School of Communication found almost no aboriginal representation in 70 hours of prime time drama last year. Since the demise of the CBC’s North of 60 TV series, aboriginal communities as fictional places have entirely disappeared from our screens. Not only have we let the budgets of the CBC dwindle, but our public broadcaster is not the place for public storytelling it could be. The CBC today has little role in initiating films in Canada. You will discover tonight, that the CBC placed no money in The Fast Runner and made only a loose commitment to air it. We are still waiting for the CBC to exhibit The Fast Runner. The debate is over its length, something Mr. Kunuk is at great pains not to sacrifice. To quote The Fast Runner’s co-producer Norman Cohn,

“realistically when people ask us what was challenging about our film, we don’t talk about the weather, we talk about the politics-what it was like to convince the Canadian system and the world system that a bunch of Inuit video makers at the end of the world could make a world-class movie if they had the chance”. (Muira McDonald, Seattletimes, June 18,2002).

There are a number of unique paradoxes about The Fast Runner. The film did not gain widespread public attention in Canada until after it won at Cannes, and still today, there are more movie reviews from international sources than there are at home. It has still not received widespread theatrical release here. Yet according to Mr. Richard Stursberg, the new president of Telefilm Canada, the public agency responsible for investing in film, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is one of just three Canadian movies to pass $1 million at the box office in the past three years (the other two being Men with Brooms by Robert Lantos and Hollywood, Bollywood-a remarkable commentary on the changing cinema in Canada).

We obviously have a great deal to learn in English Canada about growing a distinct cinematic or televisual culture. Is it because we all too often think like cultural accountants rather than artists? This would not be the outcome early pioneers of public broadcasting like Graham Spry or Alan Plaunt would want. Citizens and community groups must change the very way we talk about the importance of public, non commercial culture.

Zacharias’ mission, like that of other aboriginal artists, is a big one. To quote Ruby Truly, a director and independent video producer from the Kootenays who attended the Spry-SFU Master Class:

« As artists we are the myth makers of who we are as a people. We hold these myths in our family stories passed down through time from mothers’ tongue to son in our fiction; we hold them in poems and in our music; we hold them in our paintings and in our pottery, in our tapestries and in our sculpture, we hold them in our dance and in our drama, in our photography and in our video. We hold these myths in the work that is inspired by tradition as well as that which is fueled with an urgency to experiment and explore. It is work that comments and work that questions. It is work that explodes with triumph, screams with grief, staggers with wonder, and crumbles with humility. We are the myth makers of who we are as a people and we constantly place and replace that myth into the world. And what we create becomes a part of a vast and diverse vocabulary …instantly familiar in a visceral way, like in our bones and at the very same instant with a very intimate, personal and private connection to the heart. »

Tonight, we have asked Mr. Kunuk to share with us his dream of growing the art of storytelling for his Inuit people. It is my pleasure to present, Zacharias Kunuk.

The Public Art of Inuit Storytelling

I was born to a family of twelve in a sod house on the land. My mother would be telling these stories, like Atanarjuat, to put us, my brothers and sisters, side by side, to sleep. I used to use my kammiks as my pillow and I would wake and they would be frozen and I would put them on and they’d thaw out. I was learning. My father was a hunter and he had dogs and he would be harnessing his dogs. My job was to untangle the ropes. I had one dog that he couldn’t catch so my mother would wake me up and say “go get your dog,” and I would go out and the dog would only come to me and I would give it to my father. I was dreaming that I would be a hunter one day, but at the age of nine, I was dragged to school when my parents finally got the message, “why aren’t your kids in school?” with the family allowance check from the Federal Government. Kids in Canada are in school at the age of five and here I was, nine years old. When I went to school they would not let us speak Inuktitut. And so that was my worst day, going to school.

I came to Igloolik in 1966. There was no TV in Igloolik in 1966. The community kept voting TV out, twice, because the CBC had no Inuktitut programming. Before TV came, we used to go to our community hall, which had 16mm movies. At the age of twelve I started doing sculpture and would sell them to my teachers to make a little money, because it cost a quarter to get in. I would try and finish carving before the show time, filing away. I would sometimes be late, but most of the time I made it.

I remember watching movies with cowboys and Indians and John Wayne and the cavalry. I was watching this movie one evening and John Wayne was my man. We were in the fort and he sent out scouts. I was one of the soldiers, and so we went out and didn’t come back. The soldiers were dead, and there were soldiers and horses with arrows in them everywhere. I asked, “What kind of Indians did this?” Because I was thinking like those soldiers. As I got older and saw myself as an aboriginal person, I learned that there’s two sides to every story.

As I got older, I continued doing good sculptures in soapstone, carving for more money. I learned I could own 35 mm cameras, experimenting with different types of cameras and different scenes, documenting the hunt. But then came the moving camera. So one day in 1980, I heard that any breathing person could own a moving picture camera. And that was the day I decided I got to have one. With my carving buddy, who also played Atanarjuat, Natar Ungalaaq, we spent two weeks carving. We flew down and I traded my carvings for a Betamax camera, portapak and a VCR and I bought myself a 26 inch TV.

Because I wanted to record, I would watch my father. He would go hunting, come home with his hunting buddies and drink tea and tell these terrific stories and I wanted to capture it. So I started. I tried filming and even though my camera said it was colour, everything played back black and white for two months because there was just a little button called a colour balance that I missed. So every night I would try and play my tapes through my TV. I noticed kids playing outside would be stuck to my window watching my TV, and some nights I would just start to realize there’s a lot of kids in my house watching TV. [laughter] Yes, the power of TV. When TV came to Igloolik in 1983 ( in time for the hockey series), everybody stopped listening, visiting one another and telling stories. The only way was to put these stories in the box: it was time to tell these stories through TV.

Since I was already trying to do it on my own, Paul Apak, our late screenwriter, who was the only person of our team working at the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation when it was starting in 1982, hired me. I learned a lot from him. Our center was run in the Ottawa office. IBC had an Ottawa office, to run everything and their finance department is in Ottawa. In eight years with the Corporation, I worked with the camera and became a station manager. In my eighth year, in 1985, there was a camera seminar happening in the nearby community of Iqaluit, and I never had any formal training so I flew down. The Corporation flew me down, and I met this guy who was training with the camera, Norman Cohn. That’s how I met my partner and I flew back with Norman. We became friends and it seems like we’ve been married for seventeen years. In the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, there was no room for drama because they never had any money to do that. They only did current affairs, but I wanted to do more. Norman Cohn introduced us to the Canada Council and we applied and we got our first Canada Council grant in 1985. We made a short video from the Inuit point of view which today we still haven’t subtitled. I had to do these films on holidays and leave-without-pay, and I started doing my own projects with my team. My team was Norman Cohn, Paul Apak, and Paul Qulitalik. We also made Qaggiq in 1988.

In 1991 we decided that the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation was not the place for our goals and we broke off. We made the first independent Inuit video production company. Isuma, we called it, because when you’re doing all these sorts of things, you have to do a lot of thinking and Isuma means “to think.” These same four partners are as shareholders. We started to recreate the past because when we used to work for Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, we would visit elders and they would tell us terrific stories but when you got through at the editing table, you had no footage of them left. So to make it was our goal. We got to do the Nunavut series, thirteen half hours following five families over the four seasons which was aired on the Northern Broadcasting Service. When we started we had no script. We told the actors what we wanted and they just did it. I never ran so much with a Betamax on the tundra. Then the next ambitious project to do was to do a feature length film.

Paul Apak decided that we would do Atanarjuat because we all grew up with this story and once it was taught to you, you never forgot that naked man running out on the ice. We all heard this story and now it was the time to use new technology to put these stories through the TV.

We started to write Atanarjuat in 1995. We talked to seven elders to get the story right and we wrote it in Inuktitut. We did not shoot until 1999 because it was very hard to get funding until we translated it into English. CBC and Telefilm did not believe in us. The writing team turned the story into a professional script – Apak, me, Norman, Qulitalik and Paniak – writing every day for two months. We also consulted with a scriptwriter, Anne Frank, from Toronto. Then we submitted it to Telefilm in 1998 but they refused us. The aboriginal language fund was too small. There was no space for Inuit in the national system. It took us all year arguing for that space in the national system. Independents seem to be so alone. The system shuts them down. Even if you have a great idea if you fill out the form wrong you will not get it. Finally we got approved by the National Film Board and Telefilm Canada and we started to shoot in 1999. Editing was in 2000. Our first premiere was in Igloolik in December 2000.

We spent six months shooting, from April to September. We went to the actual location where the story happened. We did it in the Inuit style. Of course, actors had to learn their characters. Following a script in all kinds of weather presents special challenges. The sun is always changing. For food, we hired hunters to hunt for us so we could eat because we had no catering trucks in the Arctic. The Inuit style of filmmaking takes lots of teamwork. We work horizontally but the usual Hollywood film work in a military style. Our team would be talking, “how are we going to shoot this?” with my art directors down to my sound man. We put the whole community to work. Costumes, props, we had a two million dollar budget, and one million stayed with the people of Igloolik. The people learned to practice their own cultures, and language, although of course we had no Igloolik style of Igloos. [laughter] Everything was authentic, handmade.

Inuit people are storytellers. Four thousand years we have been passing stories to our youth. We saw other films being made about the north where you could see your woman’s seal oil lamp turned the wrong way around and the production doesn’t really care. One time I saw our seal oil lamp was a torch like the big Olympic flame. [laughter] It is important we tell our stories from our Inuit point of view.

The first screening in Igloolik in December 2000 was my scariest moment because we finally put in on the table to the people what we are making. We have no theaters in Igloolik. We found the biggest room we could find which was a gymnasium. We bought a video projector, a wide screen. We put out four hundred chairs, and when we opened the gym, kids were running, pouring in. They were sitting on the floor. Elders were sitting and people were standing in the back for almost three hours. Sometimes there was silence, sometimes there was laughter, and then silence again. And when the credits rolled, people were clapping and crying and shaking our hands. That day I knew that we did our job right. For three screenings each night, about five hundred people came out of twelve hundred people. [laughter] Inuit loved it. Kids loved it. Kids were even playing Atanarjuat on the street. [laughter] Every household in Igloolik had a copy of the video. We made a thousand VHS copies and sent them to the co-op stores in other communities to distribute it throughout Nunavut. Nunavut doesn’t have a theater system. This was the only way, the fastest way, so that they wouldn’t be left out when we launched it.

After screening in Igloolik, we transferred it to 35mm film. Our company, Isuma, took the risk, a hundred thousand dollars, with no help from Telefilm or NFB. We believed that the outside audience would like the film but no one else believed in us. The first subtitled film print was ready to submit to Cannes in March 2001. Cannes chose the film and we won the Camera d’Or, but we still didn’t have any Canadian distributors. We won other prizes, in Scotland, Belgium, Toronto, were nominated for eight genies, and were Canadian choice for Oscars. But CBC and Alliance Atlantis, and other distributors, all still dragged their feet. Finally we got CBC and Alliance to sign six months after Cannes. We signed separate deals within the UK, France, US and Netherlands. The UK and French release was in February 2002- to big success. France sold 250,000 tickets, and Atanarjuat became one of the top foreign language films of the year. The Canadian release was also successful – a 1.3 million dollar box office on less than thirty prints. The US release started in June and is still going on-23 straight weeks, to become one of the top 60 foreign films in America. We have sold to thirty countries: it is playing now in Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Norway, Denmark, and opening in Germany, Russia and Japan.

[audience clapping]

First of all, it was a really good film – exciting, entertaining, with good action, love, sex, good camera work, good music. [laughter] People didn’t know, didn’t believe that these guys knew what they’re doing, but we had professional experience. Apak had twenty years, I had twenty years, Norman Cohn had thirty years in making professional video, before the word “digital film” got started. Our legend is a universal story: about love, jealousy, murder, revenge, forgiveness – the same for everybody everywhere. Not like Hollywood films. It was shot, acted, edited in our own style. Everything is authentic. The audiences really get the story. People today seem to want different points of view, different ways of seeing. The same old stereotypes about native peoples seem fake and boring to audiences.

Okay, I’m going to talk a little bit about what we are working on right now, a short documentary on Shamanism and Christianity. When Christianity came, we were told to forget your old way of life, become new. We started to realize that our young people growing up thought that square dancing was the Inuit culture thing. [laughter] It was just the awayers that brought it. We are just trying to wake up our audience, to get the story right.

How has Inuit filmmaking changed in the past twenty years? It hasn’t changed much. IBC is still the same, but has probably disappeared more. IBC ratings have gone down a lot. Since this new Aboriginal Television Network started, Inuit politicians and critics kept saying over the radio, “What happened to us? Where is Inuit programming?” It is supposed to be on APTN but nobody knows their time slots. If it weren’t for us at Isuma, I don’t know – I absolutely don’t know how it would be today. I have absolutely no idea. CBC is the main broadcaster and radio up in the North. It broadcasts in Inuktitut but there seems to be nothing if you don’t work for the Corporation. There is hardly anything for our youth.

In 1982, ’84, when Inuit Broadcasting started out, there was a whole bunch of us that thought it was great for Inuit broadcasting. I would give my left arm for it, and I went to work, but after eight years working in there I could not do it. When we started, there we were very promising filmmakers which we got the message that once we started to learn, that one day we were going to be director of the Corporation. That never happened. Directors stayed in Ottawa. It has never changed. So a lot of us promising starters went to work somewhere else. That’s really sad for me. I guess I’m there. For a filmmaker in Canada, especially from way up there, when you try your first attempt, we thought that we would be treated the same, everywhere, because we were part of Canada. It was not fair in 1995 when we went after funding as Canadians, as tax paying Canadians and got turned down. It was a shocking experience and I hope we never have to go through that again.

[audience clapping]

Questions and Answers:

Question: My name is Alison and my question has to do with distribution. And I was just wondering if you had any hope for the distribution of the film to happen prior to the release at the Vancouver Film Festival where I first saw the film, or what happened along that path?

Answer: I’m terrible in this field. I am good at making it, but distribution is another job description. I know that after talking for one year in promoting this film and trying our sell to agents, it’s a very corrupt system. I stick to making movies, not distribution. This is the reason why our company started our own distribution because you got to watch those wolves out there. There are a lot of them.

Question: My name is Michael. I’m really curious about the documentary about Shamanism and Christianity that you were mentioning and wondering where you are at in the production of that and how we might get access to it?

Answer: We’re still in the editing stage. We have already shot it. Since Christianity came up North, they used Shamanism in opposition to Christianity and made it really look bad. Our young people are very interested in this subject. The subject cannot be closed because of religion. Catholics and Anglicans almost banned telling stories, or even doing a drum dance thirty years ago, but now it’s slowly coming back. It’s still very touchy subject. I’m doing my part to try and bring it back through TV. When I interview elders, our elders are telling me that Shamanism was not all bad. Some of it was good. Some of it saved lives and helped the sick. As they were telling me this I started to realize that Shamans used to kill evil spirits and that it was evil spirits that made people sick. For a hundred years we haven’t touched them. The elders were saying that the longer the evil spirits are here, the smarter they are, and harder to kill, so then I thought we got a lot of overtime to do. [laughter]

Question: My name is Angelique. I just wonder if there were any other practical considerations in filming in the Arctic. You mentioned hiring hunters to feed the crew rather than having the big trucks for catering. Were there any other things that were different and unusual challenges for you?

Answer: We were shooting in the warmest six months. The only problem I had was continuity. The sun is always moving, the sun is always moving. Even though we have twenty-four hours of sunlight, when you are shooting at two o’clock in the morning the sun really moves. Weather, or the things that we cannot control were the main factors to us. But we live in this field. We try to figure these out. When it cam to do a steady shot, the only way we could do it, was through a sled.

Question: My name is Carol. You mentioned earlier that when you were younger you would film your father as he was telling legends and telling stories when he would come back from hunting. I’m wondering if you are going to be making more films using some of those legends that you recorded from him?

Answer: I’m even scared to touch my high-eight footages because once you start playing with those they start to lose generation. I have a lot of that in my library and I’m hoping that maybe as technology gets better that I can transfer it right away to DVD.

Question: My name is Corey and I don’t know how to propose this as a question but I first of all have to tell you how much, to have you here, speaking like you are, really moves my heart, just like the film did. You are a hero and I am truly amazed and honoured to be in your presence and hear you speak in person, come all this way to do this, and it’s real beautiful of you. I thank you. [audience clapping] I’m also an actor and have been for ten years in Vancouver and I’ve been finding out about the wolves in the industry and so therefore I’m learning about stories in my own life that I want to tell and how hard it is to come through with what it is in your heart, you know, that’s important, that’s universal, that can be of importance, that can help unite us in a way that your film managed to do for me. I am just amazed at what you accomplished and how the Creator, the Good Lord, has brought so much blessings to you, and I’m trying to find a way in my life to write my story and I guess I’m trying to ask how to begin. I know there’s a million crazy ways and it’s just hard to figure out where the hell to start.

Answer: I just want to tell you that I just do my job. As part of this company, my job is to go out there. Stories are everywhere. You got to have interest in these stories. I had interest in Shamanism for a long time. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to do it, and I’ve been searching over the years about how I am going to do it, and finally this year I did a short. Teamwork and commitment – that’s all we need.

Question: Did you make any changes to the original legend?

Answer: Paul Apak talked and we all changed the ending. In the original story when they are fighting inside the ice igloo, he smashed his head. Paul felt that that doesn’t make any sense. That is going to go on and on and on. We also knew that they used to just send people away instead of killing them and that was a better ending so we chose that. He even asked the elders, is it all right to change the end? I remember one of the elders answering him, “We are storytellers.” ( laughter)

Question: First I would like to thank you for such a wonderful movie. Next I would like to ask you how you conquered some of the technical aspects of filming in such a cold climate.

Answer: Like I said, we were working in the six warmest months. For the video camera, at minus thirty, you can take it out and you have a good maybe ten minutes until your viewfinder freezes. We had a lot of ways to keep the camera warm. Sometimes when we were going to shoot inside the igloo, we would put our camera inside a plastic bag and just wait for a couple of hours to bring it to the right temperature. We had to deal with these things, because when you are shooting out in the cold, you cannot just accidentally bring your camera in or condensation will do the damage. We would have to bag it first before we brought it into a warm house.

Question: Thank you very much for your film. I wonder if any of your previous films or videos are available in subtitled versions and are they available?

Answer: The easiest way is to visit the Isuma website and order them directly.

Question: You probably get this question a lot. How was this film influenced by Nanook of the North, and how do you feel about Flaherty and his work?

Answer: Yes, I have been asked this question a lot of times. Robert Flaherty did his documentary about 500 miles south of our community. I saw one particular scene with a kayak where a woman is coming out of the back of the kayak. After she comes off, then another woman comes out from inside and another boy comes out holding a puppy. [laughter] That’s a set! I am really glad he did record that culture at the time. We are doing ours further north.

Question: My name is Michael. You mentioned you had difficulty with the NFB and with Telefilm in terms of getting funding to shoot the film, and you went to a lot of effort to get that funding. Making independent films in Canada, in your opinion, is that an essential step to get through? And I guess I’m wondering if there are other ways that you’ve experienced, with your Shamanism film, for example, that avoided that, or is that through Telefilm as well?

Answer: After Atanarjuat we have a little bit easier. It’s easier to us, but I’m afraid other filmmakers might run into the same wall that we ran into. I wouldn’t be surprised. Just because they know us now, funding is easier for us, but I’m just afraid that another aboriginal filmmaker may have the same problem, I don’t know. I hope they are changing the system.

Question: My name is Craig. I wanted to ask you about the oral tradition and I’m thinking there must be a lot of elders that are passing away. Are their stories being passed on orally or is film going to be the new mode of storytelling?

Answer: Stories are being recorded right now through audio tapes. There is an elders’ audio project in Igloolik and they are collecting stories. We just work in this medium, making it visible. We’re just trying to do our part and I guess we’re not doing it fast enough, but we are starting to record every chance we get. Because we’re going to be elders one day and my grandson is going to come to me, “how do you build an igloo?” and of course I am going to have to know how to build an igloo.

Question: My name is Nicola. I am a film student at SFU, and I was just wondering about the casting of film, if it was difficult to find actors and actresses to commit to such a project. In particular, I was wondering where you found Sylvia Ivalu who played Atuat. I thought she was beautiful and absolutely perfect for the role. I was just wondering where you found characters such as that?

Answer: Actors and actresses, we had the idea that we would search this world for players all the way from Alaska to Greenland but we had everybody in our community, Sylvia Ivalu who works as a secretary in the government office, she gets her holiday and she’s terrific, she’s wonderful. All the actors were from our community. After all this story happened in this area. These are the same people, descendants of Atanarjuat, and we thought this is as close as you can get to the story.

Question: I was wondering if you were familiar with how the Australians support aboriginal programming or if the New Zealanders support Maori programming.

Answer: While I was in Australia I saw this terrific program, Bush Mechanics, which reminded me of when we were out hunting and your skidoo breaks down and you tie it up and you still get home. It’s a program that I really liked. I really like that throat singer, the American throat singer that went to Tuba. I saw that one and I really loved that.

Question: My name is Melanie. Thank you for a wonderful film and thank you for coming. I work here as a storyteller and I have a number of questions about storytelling as the oral art form that I found beautiful in the film. I felt like you were very close to what I imagine as storytelling. I have a story that’s in my mind that I read in a book. It is about a woman who is proud and she finally gets herself married to two men who take her away and throw her away into the sea. She goes down to the bottom and becomes nothing but bones, and somehow she finds a man to play a drum to bring her back to herself. And then she plays a drum and she brings him back out of his old age. And are any of those details familiar to you, or is this a story that would come from some other part of the far North?

Answer: Yeah. I knew some stories like that about Setna, the Sea Goddess. Shamans used to go and comb her hair because as the story goes she was married to a whale living on an island. She was homesick and her father came and started to take her back but this whale found out and he was in a rage and he started to attack the boat. This old man would throw him off and she would hang on to the boat and the whale would cut her fingers. As she is drawn down to the bottom of the sea, her fingers become sea mammals. She lives at the bottom of the sea and she can’t comb her hair, so the Shaman used to go and comb her hair so she would release some seals. I heard some story like that.

Question: My name is Grace. I am wondering how threatened your language is in your community there. Is it passed along to the children? Do most people speak it there in the community? How many people are bilingual or multilingual?

Answer: In my community, Inuktitut is the first language. At home, at work, everybody speaks Inuktitut. Even when we sent our children to school, the first three years they’ll learn Inuktitut, how to speak it, how to write it. By the fourth year they start to learn English, and that way we think that we capture them first so they never forget it.


Question from Daryl Duke, honorary Spry fellow: Zacharias, congratulations on a marvelous film. It is a Canadian classic. Thank you for coming down to see us and to speak to us. I am very curious – you did such a wonderful film in your community, with great obstacles, with Telefilm opposing you and every other agency opposing you, I’m wondering, are other communities, are there other film efforts being made to tell stories in other communities in the North, across the North, or is your company a pretty isolated venture? And in other isolated areas, are those stories of their communities just going to disappear or have you heard of other feature-length dramatic films being made? Or are you pretty well on your own?

Answer: We are pretty well on our own.

Daryl Duke: Do you see these agencies such as Telefilm and the need for distribution are almost obstacles to our collective memory? These obstacles are going to really erase memory unless people like yourself can invigorate production across the North and rescue language and stories in more communities than just your own.

Answer: Well we are the only filmmakers in our community. Other settlements, they don’t have any. But they each have their way of collecting these stories. To answer your second question, we’ve got to learn this system, how it works, there is no other way. I don’t think it’s going to get easier. We might as well learn it now. That’s my only solution.

Question: I saw your film when I was in the United States. And the Americans around me were stunned and silent and many people were crying. And looking at the film, I felt that it was like home. I’m wondering when this film was shown to other people that are indigenous to our Arctic and other Arctic regions, you mentioned Russia, you mentioned Norway, what did they see when they saw your film? How did they respond? Did they say? Could you share that with us?

Answer: Everywhere we took this film, it has the same response. Audiences coming out, they want to shake your hand, they want to thank you for making it, everywhere we took it, it’s the same.

Question: First I want to congratulate you on your film. Thank you very much. It’s an honour to be here with you. The question I have, is if you considered telling a story set more in the modern era. By that I mean I guess meeting with the whites any time up until the establishment of Nunavut. Are you working on anything like that, if anything has been done? What sort of challenging do you think you would meet dealing with modern day issues as opposed to issues or stories of the past?

Answer: The documentary on Shamanism and Christianity does come right up to the present. A lot of young people are killing themselves. There is no hope. But they should realize that when you commit suicide there is a place where they all go and I’ve heard they are very thirsty still, if they have their throats cut off or they hang themselves. They are in the zombie land. Inuit belief in the afterlife is in three stages, a below, middle and above, and the middle is zombie land. We want to get the message across before you kill yourself, that is where are you going.

Question: My name is Minta and I want to congratulate you on such a wonderful film and the way you brought your world down here. My question is, will you update your website so we can keep in touch with your projects so we don’t miss any?

Answer: We try to and we have a very talented worker named Katarina. She tries to keep our website updated.

Catherine Murray: I would like to thank you Zacharias so very much tonight, and thank the audience for their wonderful questions. Clearly we are about to adjourn. Some you have been talking about the isolation of your work, or the difficulties you encounter in finding an authentic storytelling voice in what is an extremely hostile commercial world, a feeling that was very much shared earlier by a number of filmmakers who gathered with Zacharias. There are very few points of hope on the horizon, but there are some, and I think we need to continue to lobby. We need to lobby for public money, public funds for supporting artists with tremendous vision like Zacharias. We also need to insist our public agencies like the CBC play a dynamic role in film in this country, bringing film to us. And I would encourage you to repeat these messages to our Minister, Sheila Copps, repeatedly in the coming months. I would like to thank you all very much.

The end.

Zacharias Kunuk

Il y a plus de vingt ans, Zacharias Kunuk rapportait avec lui à Igloolik la première caméra vidéo de cette région arctique, caméra achetée grâce à la vente de ses sculptures. Depuis ce temps, il a produit et réalisé près de 30 documentaires et films dramatiques. Son plus récent, Atanarjuat, La légende de l’homme rapide, est le récipiendaire à l’échelle internationale de plus de douze prix majeurs. Zacharias Kunuk est également président et co-fondateur de Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., la première maison de production inuit indépendante au Canada. Sa mission : préserver et rehausser la culture inuit, et créer des productions médiatiques professionnelles basées dans la communauté et de style inuit.