Isuma: Inuit Video Art/The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat

By Congdon, Kristin G. | Journal of American Folklore, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Isuma: Inuit Video Art/The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat


Congdon, Kristin G., Journal of American Folklore


Isuma: Inuit Video Art. By Michael Robert Evans. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2008. Pp. xi + 209, glossary, notes, references, index.)

The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat. By Michael Robert Evans. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010. Pp. ix + 126, glossary, notes, bibliography, index, photographs.)

In his well-argued 1991 book, In the Absence of the Sacred: The Failure of Technology & the Survival of the Indian Nations (Sierra Club), Jerry Mander made the claim that television, like all technology, is not neutral. In fact, he reasoned, it works against the cultural lives of land-based native populations. While it matters who controls the content of film and television, Mander stressed the intoxicating danger of the form that can easily replace other ways of gaining knowledge, such as through oral storytelling. In his two comprehensive books, Isuma: Inuit Video Art and The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat, Michael Robert Evans demonstrates how a group of determined Inuit filmmakers have addressed this kind of criticism by not only controlling the content of the work, but also by making filmmaking a part of the Igloolik folkloric process.

The author acknowledges that his two books share some of the same information. This repetition is reasonable, given that Isuma's most widely recognized accomplishment is the 2001 film, Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, which is also one of the most noteworthy Native films ever made. Perhaps in part because of the Isuma filmmakers' different approach to filmmaking and presenting a story, this film captured the attention of critics all over the world. It won the Camera d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, along with numerous other honors, including six Genies (Canada's version of the Oscars) and the Best Film Award at the Image NATIVE Media Arts Festival. It was the first feature-length film (172 minutes) completely created by Inuit filmmakers. Isuma Productions was responsible for writing, directing, and producing the film, almost all of the actors were nonprofessionals, and all the actors were from the Igloolik area. Additionally, the entire film is in Inuktitut, Canada's Inuit language, and the story is carried out in both the human world and the spirit world.

Isuma: Inuit Video Art is full of praise for the core filmmakers, Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn, Pauloosie Qulitalik, and Paul Apak. Evans describes the many films and videos Isuma has made, making the point that "Inuit videography should take its place among the great Inuit arts" (p. 3). His position is that filmmaking in this context is not to be contrasted to high art and that technology should not be seen as invading or destroying the Inuit's traditional culture. Instead, Inuit videography "is no less Inuit because it is created with electronic machinery," and it is "no less art because it is shown on television" (p. 7). Claiming that video is more than visual narrative, the filmmakers make a convincing argument that video is built just as houses and ceramic jugs are built. Therefore, it can be read in a similar manner to sculpture. Evans also describes the many Isuma projects that present everyday folkloric practices such as hunting, caribou-skinning, fishing, hairstyling, making igloos, creating skin tents and fish traps, and tending to the qulliq (the traditional stone lamp).

In his second book, The Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat, Evans explains the importance of the film, Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner, and the many ways in which it is rooted in Igloolik culture. Folklorists, anthropologists, educators, filmmakers, and others will be interested in the manner in which this film challenges ubiquitous Eurocentric approaches to making and thinking about film. …

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