The cast and crew of Qanurli, Nunavut's Inuktitut language TV show, can turn anything into a joke, but when they speak about why an Inuktitut series is needed, they're all business.
"It's very important for us to have Inuktitut as the main language in our TV series as well as introduce a new style of television that we haven't had much of in the Arctic or from Inuit in the Arctic," said Thomas Anguti Johnston, who plays a character called Inuk Qablunaaq on Qanurli.
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The show, which bills itself as "Wayne's World meets Saturday Night Live in the North," is shooting outside of Nunavut for the first time in its five seasons. The crew has taken the show on the road, shooting episodes in Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Igloolik, and Cambridge Bay and now the cast is in Kuujjuaq, Que.
"A big goal for us this season ... is to kind of branch out a bit and make it not so much a Nunavut show but an Inuit show," said Stacey Aglok MacDonald, producer.
An 'Inuit take' on comedy
Qanurli features comedic skits, commercial parodies and fake newscasts reflecting social and political issues. The show is led by two goofy Inuk guys who live in a tent and produce an Inuktitut language series.
Johnston says there are a lot of documentary-style films and TV shows about Inuit, but few comedies.
"We wanted to try something completely out of that realm," he said."I think a comedy-drama genre really represents the Inuit culture very well. We have very funny people who love to laugh and love to joke around."
Johnston says the show highlights Inuit culture by poking fun at itself.
"What we've been working very hard towards is to modernize a lot of our jokes, but also at the same time keep it very Inuk."
The show gives an Inuit spin to popular product advertisements. While CBC was on set, they were filming a segment featuring the Jerry Cans' Nancy Mike as "Lady Gaga" in a mock commercial for a perfume smelling like raw meat.
Through a comedic lense, the show also tackles many complex social and political issues in the North. Johnston said using humour allows the show to reach more people.
"With our comedic spin it makes it easy for us to be honest."
A recurring issue featured on the show is the controversy around mining rights on Inuit land. The two lead characters are often approached by southern companies who want to mine their land. At times the men negotiate with the companies, but sometimes the talks break down.
Johnston said the characters are a nod to his heroes.
"It's sort of our sort of shout out to back in the '70s when our Inuit leaders started really organizing to bring about land claims."
Not lost in translation
Producing a show in Inuktitut for Inuit across a large area is not an easy task, particularly because each region uses a different dialect.
When Vinnie Karetak first started working on the show, he had a hard time understanding Johnston. Karetak, who plays Nipangi Huittuq, the co-lead, is originally from Arviat, while Johnston is from Igloolik. They speak different versions of Inuktitut.
"Over the years we've been able to start to understand each other and work great together," said Karetak.
The scripts for the show are written in English and then translated into various Inuktitut dialects by the actors who play the roles. Sometimes they get translation help from family.
"It's definitely a challenge but we've always been able to do it," said Aglok MacDonald, lead producer of Qanurli.
Despite the various dialects spoken on the show, Qanurli's audience seems to be able to follow along, with the the help of English subtitles.
"Language doesn't really stop the show from being understandable to a larger audience," said Aglok MacDonald.
In the past Qanurli had a $10,000 to $20,00 budget per episode. Now thanks to funding from an APTN broadcast license, the Canadian Media Fund and Nunavut Film, the show has a budget of $60,000 per episode.