Film has become an important and influential art form in the North over the past century, just as it has across the rest of the world.
Many Inuit watched their first films only 60 years ago while they were still living in igloos! Southerners and not the Inuit themselves, often times made these movies.
One of the first movies to portray Inuit life in the North is entitled Nanook of the North, a movie made in 1922, by director Robert Flaherty in Northern Québec. Flaherty considered his film a “documentary”, although many Inuit knew that most scenes were staged – some even believe the movie was humorous because the scenes were so obviously faked. Though it is it is not completely factual, it became immensely popular and created an image of the Inuit as happy and courageous people struggling to survive in a snowy and harsh world. Now the Inuit make films themselves about themselves which are more truthful.
You can watch the film online here:
The Inuit eventually began participating in Southerners’ films as either actors, or characters in documentaries. The Living Stone, for example, is a film that was shot in 1958 in Cape Dorset. Although Inuit actors were used, there were many factual errors in the movie because it was not made by the Inuit themselves; names were mispronounced, and scenes were shot in a fake igloo that was so hot it made the actor sweat.
The film can be watch here:
The Inuit are very much a visual and aural people for they have survived their harsh environment by being able to discern the smallest differences in their environment. One example that is often cited is that they can recognize at least 25 different types of snow. In areas where outsiders might easily get lost, they used their ears and their eyes to survive. It is easy to understand that this ability combined with the fact that writing and reading was not commonplace, except among the Labrador Inuit, made aural and visual communications more apt for Inuit. In other words, with their superior ability to tell a story they became, and continue to be, excellent at radio, television and film production.
Today, many Inuit have begun to make films themselves that portray life in the North. If you Google the link posted under IBC and APTN, you will see some up-to-date and interesting productions made by Inuit for Inuit. They are often in Inuktitut but also in English or French.
The creator of , Zacharias Kunuk, has also made several feature-length films about the Inuit including probably the best-known Inuit movie: .
Zacharias Kunuk lives in Igloolik on Baffin Island in Nunavut. The story is based on legends told by local Inuit about the legendary Atanarjuat. As the Inuit did not have any written language in this part of Nunavut, just like in Nunavik, storytelling was the main way of keeping their legends and stories alive.
This first feature-length film about the North was written and performed completely in Inuktitut (the Inuit language). It was produced in 2001. Atanarjuat – The Fast Runner is a story of romance, supernatural forces and traditional cultural values in the Arctic. This film, like so many other films and television productions, is a combination of Inuit storytelling and new technology. Atanarjuat is a vivid illustration of the visual and aural culture of the Inuit here. It relies almost exclusively upon images and sounds, as there are very few words spoken and those are all in Inuktitut.
The film has won many national and international awards including the very prestigious “Camera d’Or” at the annual Cannes Film Festival for best first feature film. It was also Canada’s official selection for the Oscar awards for best foreign language film.
Today, films made for, about and by the Inuit are being made more accessible online and are also being distributed on DVDs. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is working to preserve and promote Inuit film, as well as to translate movies into the three languages of English, French, and Inuktitut. Since 1938, the NFB (Office National du Film (ONF)) has produced over 13,000 documentaries and animated films which are world renowned and have received over 5000 awards including Oscars. The NFB produces films both in English and in French. You can view many of these films online at https://www.nfb.ca.
The NFB has also released a special edition of 24 of its most well-known films about the Inuit in all the four Canadian Inuit regions (Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut and the Inuvialuit Region). They have been especially selected to show important aspects of Inuit culture and tradition. They can be watched at UNIKKAUSIVUT – sharing our stories/transmettre nos histoires at nfb.ca/unikkausivut (https://www.nfb.ca/playlist/unikkausivut-sharing-our-stories)
Of particular interest, one should take the time to view the award winning film by Martha Flaherty, called Martha of the North, about the relocation of Inuit families to Grise Fjord back in 1953 and the effects as experienced now.
To watch Inuit films including The Fast Runner, the Journals of Knud Rasmussen, or others please visit the Isuma.tv productions website.
The UNIKKAUSIVUT collection is also well worth watching and is an excellent introduction to the changes in the Arctic and the Canadian Inuit’s lifestyle in the last 70 years.
For more information, you can visit: