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Silhouette of Inuit person at sunset
"We want to show how our ancestors survived by the strength of their community and their wits and how new ways of storytelling today can help our community survive another thousand years." - Zacharias Kanuk Find Films in this program
The camera is tightly focused on the faces of Igloolik Elders gathered around a long table filled with notepads and coffee mugs. What initially looks like a non-essential meeting of community members is actually the vital discussion at the centre of (Unikkaat Sivunittinnit) Messages from the Past.
 
Directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Paul Aarulaaq Quassa in 1991, the documentary captures 13 Elders discussing traditional ajaja songs and their importance.
 
Ajaja songs tell stories and have been passed down orally for generations but never recorded. The men and women assembled want to preserve these songs, worried that their youth won’t have them when they’re gone.
 
It’s then that you notice the microphone in the middle of the table. And then someone begins to sing. They’re professionally recording 24 ajaja songs for a CD collection for future generations of Inuit.
 
Fittingly, the film documenting an act of preservation is itself being remastered.
 
Hot Docs, with the support of Telefilm Canada, is helping to restore this early film from Igloolik Isuma Productions, as well as From Inuk Point of View. Both titles will be re-released and screened at Hot Docs this year.
 
From Inuk Point of View brought together the Isuma Productions team in 1985. This was Kunuk’s first film as a director/producer. Norman Cohn served as cameraman, Paul Apak Angilirq was the editor, and Pauloosie Qulitalik narrated. They formed Igloolik Isuma Productions in 1990, making history as the first Inuit-led film production company in Canada. (Kunuk and Cohn are the only founders living today.)
 
The Inuktitut-language documentary gives a snapshot into modern-day Inuit life, panning across the homes in Igloolik as the narration details the parts of Inuit culture that remain: the language and hunting. It laments the Westernization that has creeped in, changing the way of dress and livelihoods, all the while describing the true Inuit way.
 
The Isuma collective has been bringing Inuit stories like these to the screen for almost four decades, enriching the film cannon with Inuit stories and representation. And it serves another purpose—to save these moments on film, recording Inuit history and stories for posterity.
 
Features that have come out of Isuma have served this same purpose, like the groundbreaking film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, which retold an ancient Inuit story. It was Kunuk’s first feature, and it won the Caméra d’Or in 2001 at the Cannes Film Festival, was Canada’s top-grossing film the following year, and has been called the greatest Canadian film of all time.
 
Says Kunuk, "We want to show how our ancestors survived by the strength of their community and their wits and how new ways of storytelling today can help our community survive another thousand years." Kelly Boutsalis
 
 
 

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