Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn

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Video still from <b>Nunaqpa (Going Inland)</b> by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn

Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, Nunaqpa (Going Inland), (1991), 5:49 min. excerpt from the 58:15 min. original, Inuktitut with English subtitles

Video still from <b>Episode 1: Quimuksik (Dog Team) - Nunavut (Our Land)</b> by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn

Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, Episode 1: Quimuksik (Dog Team) - Nunavut (Our Land), (1995), 5:16 min. excerpt from the 28:50 min. original, Inuktitut with English subtitles

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About these works

Nunaqpa (Going Inland) (1991)
Distributed by Vtape.

August is the time for nunaqpa, going inland in search of summer-fat caribou, to cache enough meat for the long winter ahead. Two families leave for the hunt, while an old couple waits by the shore for their return. Preparations are made for the long walk: readying the dogs; rolling up the tents; assembling cooking equipment, guns, and ammunition. When the caribou have been shot, skinned, and stored, the hunters return, successful.

Nunaqpa (Going Inland) is one of the earliest works by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn with the people of Igloolik, depicting life in the 1940s-that is, well after first contact with white whalers and priests, bringing rifles and metal tools, tea, and tobacco-but before families had given up their life on the land for settlement in permanent villages. We see the old life as if it still existed, when everyone wore skin clothing, travelled by dogteam, lived in igloos and skin tents, ate food killed by the men or gathered by the women and children. These memories are still alive for community elders, their knowledge of the old ways intact.

Kunuk says of their work, "We just started. We are in a hurry because our elders are going. Knowledge is going. Pretty soon we'll all be buried on the hill. It's a very interesting time for our work. Trying to get things right." As he points out, "You can just talk about the old days, but you can also show the old days. Actually seeing it, you get more pleasure out of it" (Kunuk in Phillips).

Episode 1: Quimuksik (Dog Team) - Nunavut (Our Land) (1995)
Distributed by Vtape.

The thirteen half-hour programs of Nunavut are set in the 1940s and recreate traditional life over the course of a year in Canada's High Arctic. In Dog Team, we follow an Inuit family travelling in the immense and beautiful Arctic spring, as the character Inuaraq teaches his young son the ways of survival: driving the dogs, building a snow house, hunting for food. This opening work establishes the traditional terms of life and family interaction, and introduces the first family grouping.

In the rest of the series we meet other families, as well as a newly arrived priest, with his message of change. As the weather turns colder, a stone house is built, then a porch of clear ice blocks is added, cut from the bay. As the year progresses, there are hunts for seal, Arctic char, then caribou and walrus, and we follow conversations about change and family values. The series comes to a close with Quviasuvik (Happy Day), a month after the sun has disappeared (as it does for a six-month period in the Arctic winter), a time for celebration and stories.

The series has been broadcast regularly on Television Northern Canada and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, and screened at numerous festivals internationally. Nunavut (Our Land) was featured at INPUT '95 in Spain, and the complete series was presented continuously for three months at documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany, in 2002.

About Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn

Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn are founding members of Igloolik Isuma Productions, established in the late 1980s to make works recreating traditional life in the High Arctic: life as it was lived before the establishment of permanent villages and a sedentary life in the 1960s. Their luminous video works do more than recreate Inuit stories of the recent past. Beautiful and suffused with light, they seem to place us inside that reality as privileged participants in a way of life now past.

Working in Igloolik, a community of 1200 people off the northwest coast of Baffin Island, Kunuk and Cohn, with the practical knowledge and "camp leader" skills of production cultural director Pauloossie Qulitalik, make works that record living memories and keep them alive. Members of the local community have become skilled actors and interpreters. Over twenty years, with Kunuk as director and Cohn as camera operator and editor, Isuma projects have re-established many skills and habits in danger of being overtaken by more commercial and urban cultures. The narrow window of opportunity for workable weather conditions including favourable temperatures for equipment and shooting and appropriate light make planning their productions an interesting challenge.

Until the present generation, Inuit people lived a nomadic existence "on the land," living in igloos and sod houses in winter and skin tents in summer. Times have changed. People have houses in permanent settlements and all the services of southern communities. Goods are expensive, but there are now stores with food, clothing, tools, and furnishings. There are TVs and radios, skidoos, trucks and airplanes, hospitals and medivac services; there is Internet access. All these changes happened over about forty years. In the self-administered territory of Nunavut in Canada's eastern Arctic, above the treeline, 83 percent of the inhabitants are Inuit. There are about 25,000 inhabitants living in twenty-seven communities spread through an area of nearly two million square kilometres, more than twice the area of British Columbia. With the territorial capital and governmental seat of Iqaluit on southern Baffin Island, Nunavut is officially bilingual: Inuktitut and English.

Though regular television programs from the South had been available via satellite in most of the Canadian Arctic since the mid-seventies, the community of Igloolik refused TV until a proportion of programming would be provided in Inuktitut. In 1983, the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) was established in Igloolik, with Paul Apak operating a single-staff studio; he was joined in 1984 by Kunuk. The following year IBC organized a workshop in Iqaluit for some of its then-larger staff; Norman Cohn was brought from Montreal as "guest trainer." Later, dissatisfied with the Ottawa-based, non-Inuit management of IBC, Apak and Kunuk, with Qulitalik and Cohn, created Igloolik Isuma Productions, Canada's first Inuit independent production company. Though Apak died in 1998, Isuma continues to work collaboratively on media projects with people in Igloolik, expanding the team as necessary for larger undertakings.

Zacharias Kunuk was born on the land in 1957 at Kapuivik in the Igloolik region, the fourth of twelve children, and came to Igloolik at age nine for school. As he has said of the usual "northern" stories: "The books you read, the films you see, are films done up in the north from a southern point of view. I'm not against southern filmmakers or bookmakers, every time I read them or see them there is always a mistake. I just wanted to tell my side of the story" (Kunuk 28).

Born in New York in 1946, Norman Cohn graduated in English from Cornell University and came to Canada in the 1970s. His early video dealt with marginal communities and studies with children, moving to collaborative quasi-documentary visual narratives. As he wrote of his work in 1984, "My video work is about watching people closely, in order to understand, by seeing, what their lives are really like. It is an exercise in getting past the surface; by looking long enough and hard enough I try to penetrate the outer shell by which all of us are 'known,' and instead see inside another person, a stranger, to feel and understand what it is like to be someone else. I record this on videotape, and call the tapes portraits" (Cohn 36).

Kunuk and Cohn were awarded the Bell Canada Award for Video Art in 1994.

In 2001, Kunuk won the Caméra d'Or prize for first feature at the Cannes Film Festival for his work as director of Atanarjuat-The Fast Runner, a mythic piece of history from the distant past. Atanarjuat - Canada's first Aboriginal-language movie written, produced, directed, and acted by Inuit-went on to win awards at film festivals around the world. Their second feature, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, will be released in spring 2006. During principal shooting in April 2005, visitors to the Isuma Website could connect to shooting locations in and around Igloolik through profiles with actors, directors, and crew; blogs; and visits behind the scenes. The production journal is archived at www.sila.nu/live.

Zacharias Kunuk summed up his work with Cohn best: "We are putting a point of view out to the world. Using video is one tool. People are watching, people are listening" (Kunuk in Phillips).

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