Isuma: Inuit Video Art

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Since director Zacharias Kunuk was awarded the Camera d'Or Award at Cannes in 2001, Igloolik Isuma Productions has been among the most well-known and influential indigenous film companies in the world. Isuma's premier movie, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) - the first-ever feature film produced by the Inuit and presented entirely in the Inuktitut language - has received numerous awards and critical acclaim.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7466-3
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-2)
  4. 1 Reflections in the Ice
    (pp. 3-16)

    Just as Inuit art should take its place among the great arts of the world, Inuit videography should take its place among the great Inuit arts.

    The history of Inuit art is well known among scholars interested in the Arctic.¹ The short version begins at the first of two critical junctures: the nexus between the Inuit and the natural world. For thousands of years the Inuit and their predecessors have been mastering the challenges of drawing sustenance and life from the harsh northern environment, and they have used these challenges as opportunities for artistic expression. A woman sewed a caribou...

  5. 2 Igloolik Isuma
    (pp. 17-30)

    In 2001, at the renowned Cannes Film Festival, the Camera d’Or award was presented to the director/producer ofAtanarjuat: The Fast Runner.Zacharias Kunuk stood at the podium in a crisp black tuxedo and gave his acceptance speech entirely in the Inuktitut language.

    Inuktitut is the language of the Inuit, the circumpolar Arctic peoples from Canada and other Northern nations. Kunuk’s speech reflected the vision behindAtanarjuat,the world’s first featurelength film written, produced, acted, and directed by Inuit. The film is in Inuktitut, a complex but highly regular tongue that echoes with only dialectical differences from Greenland to Alaska....

  6. 3 Inuit Video as Folklore
    (pp. 31-55)

    Zacharias Kunuk’s first video,From Inuk Point of View,carries a telling title. In the Inuktitut language,inukis a singular noun meaning “person.” (Literally, it means “one who is possessed by a soul” — with an interesting line of ownership. The soul possesses the person, not the other way around.) Inuit is the plural form, created in typical Inuktitut fashion by dropping the ending “k” and adding “-it.”¹

    SoFrom Inuk Point of Viewexpressly does not attempt to offer “the Inuit perspective” on anything; Kunuk understands the enormous variety of attitudes, opinions, thoughts, approaches, and worldviews that thrive among...

  7. 4 Isuma’s Artists
    (pp. 56-75)

    Isuma is a flexible collective that expands and contracts depending on the work at hand and the availability of performers and crew. Deliberately rejecting the hierarchical structures, rigid schedules, and coercive leadership techniques that Zacharias Kunuk and the others see as indicative of a misguided, neocolonial approach to organizational management, Isuma instead follows an approach that its members find more natural and more in keeping with Inuit ideals. The producers operate with a high degree of freedom, joining projects or developing their own in keeping with their vision and energy. Deadlines are subordinate to weather, hunting opportunities, and other factors...

  8. 5 Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
    (pp. 76-100)

    Atanarjuat: The Fast Runneris the first Inuit-made feature-length movie ever produced. It is based on an Inuit legend, an intricate narrative of disharmony, conflict, and ultimate healing that focuses on events surrounding two brothers: Atanarjuat and his older brother Amajuat.¹ Several variants of the legend are in circulation in the Igloolik area. One was told by Michel Kupaaq in an interview with Therese Ukaliannuk on 6 March 1990:

    I have seen two stones that used to be used as benches. One near Pingiqalik and one at Iksivautaujaak. I am not sure what it means; however, this I know — that...

  9. 6 Streams of Culture
    (pp. 101-121)

    After creatingFrom Inuk Point of Viewand a short documentary entitledAlert Bay,Zacharias Kunuk and Norm Cohn set out to produce a three-part series about Inuit life in the 1930s, before extensive contact with Qallunaat. The first of the three videos isQaggiq.

    Completed in 1989,Qaggiqshows a distinct leap forward in Isuma’s development. This video was the first from Igloolik to be distributed in the South and broadcast internationally (Fleming 1996, 30). According to Kunuk, “We showed it in Montreal, in Vancouver, and in Edmonton at the Local Heroes Film Festival. Also, it’s been shown in...

  10. 7 Video as Socio-Political Endeavour
    (pp. 122-139)

    The political, social, and economic agenda that Isuma pursues has its roots in the group’s split from the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC). Both Paul Apak and Zacharias Kunuk worked for the IBC in the Igloolik production centre before leaving, for sociopolitical reasons, to form Isuma.

    Their criticisms of the IBC centre on political and economic control. The IBC is headquartered in Ottawa, and its funding comes from the Department of Canadian Heritage, a branch of the federal government. From there, the chain of authority falls to the production centres but most fully to Iqaluit, which is the hub of the...

  11. 8 Netsilik and Nanook vs Nunavut
    (pp. 140-155)

    When battle lines are drawn in the negotiation of culture, the strategic hilltops often lie in a group’s history. Whoever succeeds in gaining control over this history can shape the stories and manoeuvre the characters to grant credence to his or her own perspective. This is, of course, the “God is on the side of the victors” argument.¹

    Where there is no victor — and hence no vanquished — there is more than the usual room for conflicting interpretations of history, with each combatant offering a particular vision of the past that is at odds with the rivals’ contentions. This is the...

  12. 9 Video in Politics
    (pp. 156-171)

    In Ingo Hessel’s outstanding book about Inuit art, the author notes that “Inuit art is relatively conservative and is rarely political: very few artists deal with present-day social issues” (1998, 71). This is largely true, although some prominent Inuit carvers have created pieces that deal with alcohol, suicide, and other social concerns. For example, Eli Sallualu Qinuajua carved a depiction of the horrors of veneral disease (Seidelman and Turner 1994, 177). Charlie Ugyuk created a carving about alcohol abuse (194) and another one about the dangers of forced Christianity (199). Nevertheless, for video artists, social and political debates are fair...

  13. 10 Video as Community
    (pp. 172-190)

    In political struggles over cultural symbols, history, and perspective, the borders are not always external. While the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (ibc) and Isuma are pressing for opportunities to express the views and situations of the Inuit, another group in Igloolik – created by Isuma – is working on an altogether different front: community videography.

    The story of Igloolik’s community video centre begins with an image from traditional Inuit belief: the Tariagsuk, the Shadow People. (The word is pronounced ta-RAYG-sook and is sometimes spelled “Tarriaksuk.”) They are much like other Inuit, living on the land and functioning in normal ways. The main difference...

  14. 11 Light through the Ice
    (pp. 191-210)

    The young man lay prone across the hard-packed snow of the parking lot. He was outside the Parnaivik Building, a modern-looking office building in the heart of Iqaluit. It was the morning of 1 April 1999, the day Nunavut became an official Canadian territory. Iqaluit was the new capital. The man touched the snow with only the tips of his shoes and the knuckles of his hands, the rest of his body tightly horizontal above the ground. Then he pushed with his feet and inched his knuckles forward. He made the same move again, and again, creeping slowly across the...

  15. Glossary
    (pp. 211-214)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 215-224)
  17. References
    (pp. 225-232)
  18. Index
    (pp. 233-236)