Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., which made award-winning Inuit films like Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), is going out of business, but its owners say they are still proud of their achievements.
The Igloolik, Nunavut-based film production company has been placed in receivership, following a Quebec Superior Court decision last month to appoint a receiver to wind up the company and sell off its assets.
The court action was initiated by Atuqtuarvik Corp., a Nunavut business lender. Isuma owes that company more than $500,000 and has not been able to make its payments.
According to court documents, Isuma also owes about $1.2 million to 15 other creditors, including the Baffin Business Development Corp. Norman Cohn, one of Isuma's directors, says the company has paid off some of the loans to the banks.
As well, the company is unable to pay its own staff.
"It's hard being independent, living on grants. It's hard, and I'm amazed that we did it for 20 years," Zacharias Kunuk, Isuma's artistic director, told CBC News this week.
Kunuk and Cohn were behind Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), which in 2001 won the prestigious Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Inuktitut-language film, which was set in Igloolik and featured an all-Inuit cast, also won five Genie awards, along with a clutch of international awards, and was named best Canadian feature at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2001.
Isuma's second feature, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, was the opening-night film at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival and was nominated for a Genie.
Before Tomorrow, another Inuktitut-language film that was co-produced by Isuma and Igloolik's Arnait Video Productions Collective, was named best Canadian first feature at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. It won a Genie for best costume design.
"Look at us. What we have, we went all over the world. We've stopped Cannes for five minutes when I spoke Inuktitut. We did all this," Kunuk said.
Preparing to sell assets
Lawyers for Atuqtuarvik Corp. stated in an email Friday that the lender had invested $2 million of equity and loaned $500,000 of Inuit-owned money to Isuma beween 2004 and 2009.
Cohn advised in January that Isuma had "ceased operations and let go of its employees due to financial insolvency," according to the email.
The Atuqtuarvik laywers said the receiver is currently reviewing Isuma's financial history and transactions and preparing an inventory of all remaining assets and property.
"Atuqtuarvik Corporation hopes that it may yet recover some of the Inuit money invested and lent by it," the email states in part.
"However, it is of primary importance to Atuqtuarvik Corporation that all reasonable efforts be made to locate a suitable Nunavut purchaser of the culturally relevant assets of [Isuma] to protect such property for future generations of Inuit."
Government partly to blame: Cohn
Cohn blamed Isuma's current situation in part on the Nunavut government, which he said does not subsidize and support the territory's film industry enough.
"If Bill Gates were creating Microsoft in Nunavut right now, he'd be under 'arts and crafts' in the [Nunavut government's] economic development strategy," Cohn said.
"You can't compete nationally if your film industry is under arts and crafts."
But while Igloolik Isuma Productions is winding down, Cohn said Isuma's online television service, Isuma.tv, is not affected and will continue to operate.
Launched in 2008, Isuma.tv provides an online platform for indigenous filmmakers and storytellers to present their works.
Kunuk said he is already working on a new project called Kingulliit, which he said is a smaller company with a similar mandate as Isuma's.