Thursday, February 12, 2009


119 days ago

Last night I had a 3rd degree encounter, I actually met three inuit women from Nunavut, the Inuit region above the English side of Canada, the one in Quebec is called Nunavik.

Madeline Ivalu, Carol Kunuk and Susan Avingaq joined forces with Marie-Hélène Cousineau from Montréal and made a film after the book with the same title by Jorn Riel. Igloolik Isuma Productions is an existing production house, put up by three inuits in...Igloolik, they made The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner, in their original language. The women discovered they can do it too, storytelling is what keeps their culture alive. So the cinema is the new way to tell stories, and I find them tremendously beautiful and touching. Besides, the North being so far and expensive to get to, it's the best way for us to learn about the Inuits' ways of life.

I have to say I had tears in my eyes as soon as I saw these women, sitting quietly in the hallway of Ex-Centris, with big smiles on their broad, weary faces. Madeline and Susan, who are learning at an advanced age how to make films.

Madeline is the main character in "Le jour avant le lendemain", Ningiuq, a wise grand-mother who spends the Arctic summer on an island with her 10 years old grandson, Maniq. Then winter comes with terrible news and they start an impressive fight for survival, almost against any logic and hope. The images join contrasts between grandiose landscapes and close details of faces, hands, objects. The light is either bright or dim, the qulliq (oil lamp) is always present inside the tent or the cave, the fire must be kept alive, it's the woman's duty. The dialogue is scarse and reduced to the essential, the action progresses slowly.

This is how life is upthere (or it used to be, at least), slow, also because one needs to be careful and use the hearing, the smell, the sight, the touch, in order to survive. One needs to pay attention to every detail and move in a slow motion or start running, according to the natural conditions. The Inuits used no metals, only stones, wood, bones and skins. And they managed to make a life out of it. So the film has two main themes for me: the strong bond between grandmother and grandson and the Inuit way of life. It's admirable how ingenious they are, how strong and life smart, we could learn so much from them.

When the movie finished I was able to get closer to Madeline and Susan, Carol was translating, but I think the smiles were enough between ourselves. Madeline is so tiny, yet in the movie she fills the whole screen. Not long ago I saw "Ce qu'il faut pour vivre" with Natar Ungalaak, also from Igloolik and an accomplished artist. All the inuits I've seen in films seem to be natural born actors, maybe because storytelling plays such an important part in their life.

I bought the book describing the making off of "LE JOUR AVANT LE LENDEMAIN" , illustrated with drawings and photos, the photographer happens to be Romanian - Oana Spinu, I have to find a way to get in touch with her. Usually I don't care about autographs, but sometimes they are truly symbolic. Carol, Susan and Madeline signed, but Madeline did so in Inuktitut alphabet (sylabic). This book is a great memory for a lifetime now.

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