The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat

The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat

The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat

The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat


One of the most important Native films of all time, Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner tells a powerful and moving story about honor, betrayal, vengeance, and redemption. Set in the vast, visually stunning Arctic landscape, it was the first feature film written, directed, and acted entirely in Inuktitut, the language of Canada's Inuit people. Canada's top-grossing release of 2002, the film became an international phenomenon, receiving the prestigious Camera d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival and earning rave reviews from every quarter, including Margaret Atwood ("like Homer with a video camera"), Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Chirac, and Roger Ebert. " The Fast Runner ": Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat takes readers behind the cameras, introducing them to the culture, history, traditions, and people that made this movie extraordinary. Michael Robert Evans explores how the epic film, perhaps the most significant text ever produced by indigenous filmmakers, artfully married the latest in video technology with the traditional storytelling of the Inuit. Tracing Atanarjuat from inception through production to reception, Evans shows how the filmmakers managed this complex intercultural "marriage"; how Igloolik Isuma Productions, the world's premier indigenous film company, works; and how Inuit history and culture affected the film's production, release, and worldwide response. His book is a unique, enlightening introduction and analysis of a film that serves as a model of autonomous media production for the more than 350 million indigenous people around the world.


Follow the western shore of Hudson Bay northward until the wide expanse of water crimps into a sliver of the Arctic Ocean called the Fury and Hecla Strait. the island looming to the north and east — the fifth-largest island in the world — is Baffin Island, home to caribou herds and Inuit villages and Iqaluit, the capital of the new Canadian territory of Nunavut. Tucked between Baffin Island and the mainland is a much smaller island, shaped like a cracked stone. This is Igloolik Island, and hugging one side of the bay that nearly splits it is the Inuit community of Igloolik, “place of houses.”

From the village, a short ride by all-terrain vehicle around the hook of Turton Bay brings you to a stone — rectangular, reddish brown, covered with bird droppings. This stone offers a pleasant place to sit and gaze across the expanse of rocky beach toward the small waves of the sheltered bay. It was on this rock that a young man named Atanarjuat sat, centuries ago, to wait for the whales he had hunted to drift up on shore.

According to a legend still told in the Arctic, Atanarjuat and his brother were attacked one day by rivals who were jealous of their skill and popularity. the rivals knocked down the brothers’ tent and stabbed their spears through the fabric, killing the brother. Atanarjuat managed to escape, however, and he fled — totally naked — across the frozen ocean. the rivals pursued him, intent on murder. But Atanarjuat was endowed with extraordinary foot speed and was able to stay ahead of them, even though the cold sapped his strength and the ice slashed his feet. Ultimately, Atanarjuat escaped his pursuers and was nursed back to health by a family on a distant island. Once he was strong enough, he returned to Igloolik and exacted revenge on his rivals.

Legends such as this one infuse Inuit culture with interpretations of events, lessons about morality and social responsibility, and ideas about how to live and thrive in the Arctic. But most of the world knows about the Inuit not through their legends and stories but . . .

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