Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Films of the Inuit

More time at the National Film Board: the perfect research tool for anybody curating a festival with a film element. I watch more of Alanis’s amazing oeuvre, including her 2006 feature "Waban-Aki: People from Where the Sun Rises". It’s an altogether quieter, more gently film than "Kanehstake", with Alanis going back to her own people, to the reservation where she was born, and tracing the ongoing presence of traditional ways in contemporary life. She also raises the very thorny issue of identity politics – the strange ways in which the Indian Act deprives (for example) women of the right to land on the reservation if they marry white men (but not indigenous men if they marry white women….)

There are also a number of very powerful and inspiring films from the Inuit people of Nunavut and Nunavik. One called "Qallunaat" is hilarious. Sub-titled "Why White People are Funny", it subverts the colonial and anthropological stereotypes, with the Inuit setting up an institute to study the strange ways of the white people, or Qallunaat. There’s one particularly disruptive scene in which the white people are issued with numbered tags by which to identify them, because Qallunaat names are very difficult to pronounce or remember. It is, of course, an exact inversion of the categorisation of Inuit people by the white authorities – and all the funnier for that.

There is also a wonderful shorter film called "If the Weather Permits", by a young film-maker called Elisapie Isaac. This is more of a documentary, looking at the rapid decline in the traditional ways, and the split in identity felt by younger Inuit, including Elisapie herself. She talks to one of the Elders, in a sequence which reminds me of "Sunset to Sunrise" (maybe they would screen well together….), and he talks about the Inuit’s dogs being shot by the authorities, so that they could no longer operate as nomadic hunters, and would have to live in settlements. It’s very simple, and incredibly touching. Elisapie is also a singer, and was part of the band Taima (which means “Enough!” in Inuktitut). I meet her for lunch, and she talks animatedly about Inuit culture, about other indigenous artists, about what can be done globally if we can bring the idealists together. And then we get on to the US election, and the extraordinary way in which Sarah Palin has managed to snatch the limelight from Obama. “She’s got no experience of anything – she’s just from Alaska!” says the Inuit artist without a hint of irony!

I got to the theatre on Saturday night. There’s not much on in Montréal in September: if it’s warm enough to walk the streets without a jumper, the Québécois are not going to spend the evening indoors. But the piece I did manage to see, called "Carnet de Voyages", was rather beautiful. It’s produced by a company called Théâtre des Deux Mondes, which has certain similarities to Border Crossings. For one thing, they work in multi-media – there are some wonderful games with video and computer graphics, which remind me of another Québécois director I know – and they also work internationally. I wouldn’t call this piece intercultural – in spite of its citations of Africa, China and Latin America, its viewpoint is entirely Francophone and white – but it is very aware of its position in the global village. Would all Qallunaat shared that.

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