Angry Inuk, a film about Inuit and the sealing industry, received the most viewer ballots to take home the Vimeo on Demand Audience Award and a $25,000 cash prize at the Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.
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Directed by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, the feature-length documentary follows Aaju Peter, the titular 'angry Inuk,' who has spent decades fighting the negative portrayal of the sealing industry perpetuated by animal rights activists.
The Vimeo On Demand award is determined by audience ballot. For getting the highest rating for an independent Canadian film in the audience poll, the film also won the first Canadian Documentary Promotion Award, a $25,000 cash prize from Telefilm Canada to support the marketing and promotion of the film.
"I expected at least some blowback from animal rights activists," said Arnaquq-Baril. "I thought maybe we'd get some protesters or people arguing that they're still against sealing."
The reality was quite the opposite.
"It's so rewarding to have rooms of hundreds of people standing up and thanking us and understanding how we see the world," said Arnaquq-Baril. "I never thought I'd be able to be in the South in a room full of non-Inuit and be able to feel understood."
'Not alone anymore'
All three of the Hot Docs screenings ended in standing ovations, she said. Audience reactions varied widely from cringing when seals were butchered to cooing at images of Arnaquq-Baril's baby eating bites of fresh seal to crying at some of the more emotional moments.
"One woman, as she was walking by me, reached out and touched my arm and said, 'you're not alone anymore,'" she said. "To me, that said it all."
The film, which was completed mere days before its first Hot Docs screening, has never been shown in Nunavut.
Arnaquq-Baril hopes it will be "sooner, rather than later," but first she wants it to get a wide audience at national and international festivals.
"Larger, more prestigious prefer to screen films that haven't been seen very much elsewhere," she explains. "So, in order to make the most impact and to change the minds of Europeans and Americans who effect our sealskin prices, I want to screen it at the most major festivals that I can."
Arnaquq-Baril says it's been "amazing" and "powerful" to see such a positive response in Toronto audiences.
For some, she's even noticed the effect outside of the theatre.
"I spend a lot of time on Twitter and Facebook talking to anti-sealers. It's been something I've been doing for years now and I'm so used to saying the same thing over and over again, clearing up misinformation over and over again."
The last time, she didn't have to: "I got a really nasty comment from an anti-sealer and someone else — a non-Inuk who has never been North — stepped in."
Arnaquq-Baril says this film could never have happened without the support of all the strong Inuit leaders who have advocated on this issue.
"We speak out all the time on this, but Inuit tend to be very polite when we speak out against things. So, I don't think the world really realizes how upsetting these anti-seal campaigns are."
While she couldn't say which festivals have shown interest in Angry Inuk so far, Arnaquq-Baril says she has already heard from about a dozen different groups.
A previous version of this story incorrectly said Angry Inuk had won the $25,000 Vimeo On Demand Audience Award. In fact, the film won the Vimeo On Demand Audience Award and the $25,000 Canadian Documentary Promotion prize.May 10, 2016 9:51 AM CT