In April 1982 a plebiscite decid­ed on the divi­sion of the Cana­di­an “North­west Ter­ri­to­ries”. The east­ern part, a 2 Mil­lion square-km area with an 85% Inuit pop­u­la­tion should gain auton­o­my in the Fed­er­a­tion. But only 17 years later, after innu­mer­able legal con­tro­ver­sies and par­lia­men­tary objec­tions did Nunavut join the Cana­di­an Fed­er­a­tion as the youngest of its 13 mem­bers. In Inuk­ti­tut, one of the two offi­cial Inuit-lan­guages, Nunavut means “our land”, a clear hint to the spe­cial rela­tion­ship of the Inuit to their land and its resources. In 1990, in the middle of the strug­gles for polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence, “Igloo­lik Isuma Pro­duc­tions Inc.” the first inde­pen­dent, Inuit-con­trolled film pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny was found­ed. This was an impor­tant con­tri­bu­tion to the grow­ing cul­tur­al inde­pen­dence. The found­ing mem­bers Zacharias Kunuk, Paul Apak Angilirq (who died in 1998), Pauloosie Quli­ta­lik and Norman Cohn had a mis­sion. They planned to pro­duce inde­pen­dent com­mu­ni­ty- based media – video, audio, TV and now Inter­net – to pre­serve and enhance Inuit cul­ture and lan­guage, and to create jobs and needed eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment in Igloo­lik and Nunavut.

Within a year the idea had turned into the Tar­ri­ak­suk Video Center, a place where dra­maand video work­shops could take place and where a small local TV-sta­tion was installed. Since then, the media center spon­sors Arnait Video Pro­duc­tions (Women’s Video Work­shop), Inu­usiq Youth Drama Work­shops and has begun local broad­cast­ing through cable TV Chan­nel 24. Since 1995 Chan­nel 24 has pro­duced news and cur­rent affairs pro­grams called Nun­na­tini­it (At Our Place).

Already in 1989 the Isuma-group received inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion for their docu­d­ra­ma Qaggiq (Gath­er­ing Place). It depicts four fam­i­lies in a winter camp around 1930 prepar­ing for the fes­tiv­i­ties to wel­come spring­time and build­ing a Quag­giq, a large com­mu­nal igloo. The idea to re-enact tra­di­tion­al every­day life with local ama­teur actors in their own lan­guage and to set the story in a clear­ly defined his­tor­i­cal con­text was fur­ther devel­oped for the fol­low­ing pro­duc­tions. The biggest suc­cess so far has been Ata­nar­ju­at (The fast Runner), a drama of love and murder set in the mytho­log­i­cal past. This film was award­ed the Golden Camera at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val 2001. The dra­mat­ic TV-series Nunavut (Our Land) was pro­duced from 1994 to 1995 and is set in the years 1944 till 1946. The every­day life of five nomadic fam­i­lies during the arctic year is depict­ed in 13 parts of 30 min­utes each. With­out ignor­ing the still weak but grow­ing influ­ences of Chris­t­ian mis­sion­ar­ies and world pol­i­tics, Nunavut doc­u­ments tra­di­tion­al inge­nu­ities and social struc­tures of the ances­tors, such as train­ing dogs, build­ing igloos and stone houses, as well as hunt­ing seals, wal­rus­es and cari­bous. The exhi­bi­tion of Nunavut at the Doc­u­men­ta 11 in Kassel is a trib­ute to the extra­or­di­nary aes­thet­ic qual­i­ties of Isuma video pro­duc­tions. Story Tellers is anoth­er series where­by Igloo­lik Isuma Pro­duc­tions Inc. are col­lect exam­ples of tra­di­tion­al forms of Inuit sto­ry­telling, thus com­bin­ing tra­di­tion­al nar­ra­tive skills with modern video-making. This leads to new and fas­ci­nat­ing styl­is­tic for­mats oscil­lat­ing between sequences of actual sto­ry­telling and re-enact­ed mem­o­ries from the past.

Mary Kunuk and Marie-Helene Cousineau, film­mak­ers and found­ing mem­bers of Arnait Video Pro­duc­tions follow a sim­i­lar approach in their video work but always from a clear­ly defined women’s point of view. In her most recent work, Mary Kunuk has gone a step fur­ther and is now exper­i­ment­ing with ani­ma­tion. The explic­it goal of the Arnait-group is to give a voice to Inuit women of all gen­er­a­tions and to enable them to make their knowl­edge and opin­ions heard in a nation­al as well as inter­na­tion­al con­text.

More than 30 years ago anoth­er film series from the Cana­di­an arctic attract­ed the atten­tion of an inter­na­tion­al public. Between 1963 and 1965 the anthro­pol­o­gist Asen Balik­ci, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, filmed amongst the Net­si­lik. The idea was to pro­duce a series of films that would allow US-Amer­i­can stu­dents to study for­eign cul­tures in the class­room. In 1967 The Net­si­lik Eskimo Film Series, 9 films in 21 half-hour parts, was released. Just as Robert J. Fla­her­ty did for Nanook of the North (1922) Asen Balik­ci opted for the genre of docu­d­ra­ma, for the “reen­act­ed past” and like the pro­duc­ers of Nunavut 30 years later he fol­lowed his “nomadic” pro­tag­o­nists through the arctic year. On first sight the two approach­es look very sim­i­lar but in fact they are almost in oppo­si­tion to each other. The out­sider Asen Balikci’s aim was to intro­duce out­siders to the Net­si­lik cul­ture, close­ly observ­ing the ethno­graph­ic con­ven­tions of objec­tiv­i­ty and “whole­ness”. The Nunavut-Series was pro­duced by Inuit for an Inuit public and for their ben­e­fits. Zacharias Kunuk clear­ly describes this wide approach by saying: “We create tra­di­tion­al arti­facts, dig­i­tal mul­ti­me­dia and des­per­ate­ly needed jobs in the same activ­i­ty. Young and old work togeth­er to keep our ances­tors‘ knowl­edge alive.” The com­par­i­son of these two approach­es direct­ly leads to ques­tions sur­round­ing the inter­est­ing and often strained rela­tions between film, ethnog­ra­phy, film­mak­ers, pro­tag­o­nists and the public.

Bar­bara Lüem