Inuit history on videos
Footage about Nunavut from 1942

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Iqaluit ( May 22/00) - The complete set of Celebration of Nunavut videos would set a person back $1,499.95.

The 60-video series was recently released by the National Film Board of Canada.

I've acquired a taste for the series after watching just one -- Volume 3 from the theme Life on the Land, which included two films.

The series, an anthology of over 100 films shot in the North between 1942-96, has been organized by theme: Life on the Land, Circumpolar Communities, Stories of Tuktu, Inuit Arts, Charting the North, Northern Landscapes, Wildlife, Life in the Settlements, Exploiting the North; and Netsilik Series.

My initial reaction to the first film, Eskimo Summer (1943) was, "Oh my God, this filmmaker is so condescending, patronizing and paternalistic!"

The camera pans the land, a map shows the land of the Inuit -- now Nunavut -- and a snobby-sounding British narrator says, "There are 8,000 Eskimos living there -- the population of a small English town."

"In the winter they live in iglus, which are cleverly built with blocks of snow, making a warm and charming home."

I can just imagine this film coming out back in the 1940s; when the world did not know much, if anything, about the people to the North.

But 10 years makes a difference, and when Land of the Long Day was made in the 1950s, it seems attitudes may have started to change somewhat.

This filmmaker spent a year living with the Tununermiut people near Pond Inlet. In his film he follows one man and his family as they leave their winter camp for their summer camp.

The narrator, not a British snob, sounds like a North American Indian. I guess there may not have been many Inuit who spoke English fluently at that time.

I'm assuming the intention of these films was to inform the average, mid-century English-Canadian viewer about the Great White North -- and this film gets closer to respecting its subject.

The Life on the Land theme has a total of seven videos -- most were shot in the 1940s and '50s, three were shot in the '70s.

Two are in Inuktitut, and that's when I realized 50 years of Inuit life has been captured on film, which makes this an amazing record that traces the changes of the Inuit people.

And recognizing the great strides that Inuit filmmakers are making brings it full-circle.

Inuit now make their own films about themselves; telling their own stories.

These videos should be part of library collections and school archives, along with new films being made by Inuit writers, producers and filmmakers.