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NNSL Photo

Canadian Ranger Dinos Tikivik appears in a Discovery Channel documentary on global warming this fall. A Southern film crew -- Stonehaven CCS -- travelled to Iqaluit this summer to film and interview residents on their climate change observations. Tikivik is shown on camera in Apex. - Kerry McCluskey/NNSL photo

Our names in lights

Nunavummiut tell their stories to the camera

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Aug 19/02) - Fame has its price.

Look, for example, to Canadian Ranger Dinos Tikivik. During recent filming of a documentary on global warming, Tikivik had to sit ramrod straight for four hours on a hot, windless day in July.

That sounds relatively painless. But, given that Iqaluit is experiencing its worst mosquito season in years, sitting still outside without the relief of even a light breeze means getting eaten alive.

"I'd say there were about a million of them and they were all biting," said Tikivik, shaking his head as he recalls the recent event.

"There were so many mosquitoes and they had to do retake after retake after retake," he said. "Let's just say they told me not to scratch during the filming."

Similarly, when hired by the television series Popular Mechanics to build an iglu on film, it took Tikivik eight times longer than usual to finish the snow shelter.

"It took about four hours. Usually, it takes me 25 minutes. I'd cut a piece and they'd say do that again."

Netsilik Series

Experiences like Tikivik's are nothing new to Nunavummiut nor the Arctic. Filmmakers have been heading North for decades to capture celluloid images of Nunavut's stark beauty. Beginning in 1967 with the National Film Board's 20-part Netsilik Series, Canada's newest territory has long been at the centre of the country's love affair with the North.

Phil Kaufman, director of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Quills, did his part to combine the Arctic with the art of film with James Houston's The White Dawn in 1972.

The project introduced many South Baffin residents to the medium, including the initially reluctant Ann Mikidjuk Hanson.

"I didn't want to be a part of it because I had a newborn baby," remembered Hanson. "But Mr. Houston and Phil Kaufman came down to Apex so often to convince me to play the part," she said.

Then and now

Hanson eventually accepted the role of Neevee in the historical drama and now values the skills she learned from Kaufman -- skills she plans to use in an IMAX-format film she's currently working on called Inuit, The People.

Thinking back on how circumstances have changed for Inuit in the realm of filmmaking, Hanson is particularly pleased with the autonomy directors, actors, writers and producers now enjoy.

"In the earlier years, we just did what we were told to do. We didn't have major roles in directing or producing and when we tried to correct the scripts, we were told we couldn't," said Hanson.

"Today it's different," she said, reflecting on the similarities of Inuit culture and the intent of filmmaking.

"I've come to understand film preserves language and culture. Whether it's a film or a documentary, it's a great way of preserving culture. Inuit are storytellers and that's so similar to film."

Being in front of the camera taught Mosha Cote to better appreciate the finished product. Just 18 years old when he was cast by director David Greene to play the lead in Frostfire, a suspense flick laced with international intrigue, Cote was amazed to learn what it takes to put together a film.

"The days were really long, 13 or 14 hour days that started with two hours of makeup," explained Cote, some nine years after his debut.

"Some scenes where I was ill, it took even longer. And they told me not to breathe while they were applying it."

Winning the role by chance -- the director caught him reading the script at the video store where Cote worked -- he said he'd jump at the chance to get back on the big screen. He would however, prefer a lesser or supporting actor role.

Bryan Pearson's 46-year history in Iqaluit has provided ample opportunity to be a part of Arctic films.

Including Map of the Human Heart with Jeanne Moreau and Quintet with Paul Newman, the owner of the Astro Theatre in Iqaluit has held a variety of roles in a variety of films.

A bit of everything

"For that film (The Last Place on Earth), I sold all the powdered mashed potatoes to them to use as a blizzard," laughed Pearson, the owner of a local grocery store at the time.

"But it got in the dogs' eyes and it wouldn't melt so they had to fly in artificial snow."

Humour aside, the territory's early experiences in film paved the way for the creation of talented homegrown professionals -- perhaps the most famous of whom are the cast and crew from the international award-winning Iglulik film, Atanarjuat.

"It's wonderful. We have wonderful actors here," said Pearson, listing several people across the North involved in movies over the years. "We've had a long association with film here. Atanarjuat is the crowning glory of all of these efforts."