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Seeking the truth on film

Gabriel Zarate
Northern News Services
Published Monday, March 9, 2009

KANGIQTUGAAPIK/CLYDE RIVER - A Clyde River documentary film crew is making a film about a dark period in the history of the North.

Piksuk Media, a small documentary filmmaking company, is shooting a film about the near-extinction of Inuit sled dogs in the 1950s to 1970s.

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Benny Sanguya, left, and Dave Delouchery prepare to "shoot". - Photo by Peter Iqalukjuak

"I'm learning a lot from these people who experienced that era," said Mike Jaypoody. "The new generation like me, we didn't go through that period. There's a lot of emotion in hearing the stories from back then."

Jaypoody is one of several Clyde River residents involved in the project. He has been learning the complicated art of video editing using a computer editing suite at the Ilisaqsivik Society.

The program is complex and Jaypoody's knowledge is still developing.

"We are trying to build up a small cadre of new generation of Nunavut documentary makers," said Ole Gjerstad, the film's director and one of three owners of Piksuk Media.

Piksuk has a long history in Clyde River. Its majority owner Joelie Sanguya is from there and the company has taken advantage of the community's access to cameras and editing suites through Ilisaqsivik Society.

The company has spent 15 months accompanying the Qikiqtani Truth Commission, of which inquiring into the dog slaughter is one of the components, as its members travel across the Baffin region.

The commission hired Piksuk to record many of its interviews with elders, but the company has also has been shooting its own footage to put together an independent film tentatively called Niaqqirijuq: The Great Distemper.

"Nobody disagrees with the fact that dogs were killed in large numbers and became almost extinct as Inuit life changed from traditional life on the land to primarily living in settlements," Gjerstad said. "The question is, why and how? And that is where you have to look at what happened then and the context in which it happened and how did people understand what was happening."

Gjerstad faces a challenge in the different way in which Inuit and Qallunaat see that era: "Our story becomes essentially a story of quote-unquote two truths," he said. "The real important thing that has driven our search is that people who were present at the time have extremely different, in fact opposite understandings of what actually happened.

"We talked to, say, former RCMP policemen or Hudson's Bay managers about an incident and we get one story. Then we talk to Inuit elders who were present at the exact same incident and we get a completely different version."

Gjerstad's plan is to assemble finished versions of various lengths from 30 minutes to full feature-length, suitable for screening in theatres and broadcasting on television in a variety of formats. He has clients interested in versions in English and French through the use of subtitles, but also in Inuktitut using voice-overs.