Sunday March 13, 2016

Film excludes Inuit voices, promotes stereotypes, says critic

Stephen Puskas said the negative images of Inuit are shown with no context or explanation and the film should not be screened at festivals.

Stephen Puskas said the negative images of Inuit are shown with no context or explanation and the film should not be screened at festivals. (Supplied)

Listen 8:36

The film of The North uses clips from publicly-available videos posted online, edited together to portray Inuit life. But it has drawn harsh criticism and calls for it to be pulled from film festivals.

The 74-minute image collage is a mash-up of snow, snowmobiles, hunting and family life. There are also clips of Inuit appearing drunk, crashing an ATV, vomiting, and one very sexually explicit scene.

The film's director, Dominic Gagnon, has said he has never been to the North. He says the film is about how Inuit film themselves, and is meant to ignite discussion.

Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon explains the thinking behind his controversial documentary Of the North1:08

Many Inuit artists, filmmakers and musicians — including Tanya Tagaq — have called the film "racist," and several film festivals have cancelled screenings.

Stephen Puskas is a producer for the Montreal-based Inuit radio show Nipivut, and has been outspoken about the film. He said when he first saw it he was confused by the mash-up of images.

"It just kind of felt unsettling at first. I just kind of started to feel worse and worse about it," he explained. "I couldn't watch it all in one sitting. I had to stop and start and take breaks and stuff. I started feeling anxious and I started to feel sick, in a sense. Sick to my stomach."

Still from film 'of the North'

A still from the mash-up film of the North by Quebec director Dominic Gagnon. The film has been called 'racist' by many Inuit artists. (Dominic Gagnon)

Some of the imagery Puskas felt was problematic includes an image of a nude Inuk woman followed immediately with a dog's rear end. Another sequence shows traditional Inuit food followed by an Inuk man vomiting in a toilet.

Puskas said the issues with of The North go beyond the film's images. The problem, he says, is the message the film sends.

"[Dominic Gagnon] said in previous discussions that he is breaking stereotypes, or he's shattering stereotypes. But I think instead what he is doing is supplanting that old stereotype with a new one," Puskas said.

"The problem is showing this to people who have no education or no knowledge about Inuit and saying this is the reality."

Puskas said the solution is simple — if it's a film about Inuit, it should involve Inuit.

"With this film and subsequent screenings of the film, we're just taking a reactionary role. We don't have power here over our own representation, over people having public discussions about us... especially when we haven't been invited."

Puskas isn't looking for an outright ban of the film, and acknowledged that some non-Inuit filmmakers have told Inuit stories well. But for him, including Inuit through the consultation and decision-making process has led to those successes. 

"I think the most important part, though, is that we are able to take back our own images, we are able to take control over our own representation ... For a very long time we have not had control over our own stories."