True North Calling

7 must-watch movies filmed in Canada's North

From documentaries to shorts to dramatic features, there is no shortage of content coming from northern Canada.

Move over Toronto and Vancouver, there's a new Hollywood of the North — and I do mean the North. Way up in the Canadian Arctic, northerners have been telling their stories through film for years, to critical success at home and beyond.

It was no surprise that two of TIFF's Top Ten Canadian films of 2016 are from Nunavut. From documentaries to shorts to dramatic features, there is no shortage of content coming from up here – but what should you watch first?

I sought the opinions of four wonderful Northern filmmakers: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk, Tuniit), Marie-Hélène Cousineau (Sol, Before Tomorrow, Uvanga), Ellen Hamilton (Two Lovers and a Bear, Kaijutaijuq), and Stacey Aglok Macdonald (The Grizzlies, Throat Song, Qanurli?) and together we put this list of seven expert approved, must-watch northern films (in no particular order).

1. ᐊᑕᓈᕐᔪᐊᑦ (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) (2001) 

Director: Zacharias Kunuk

Atanarjuat holds a number of impressive accolades: it was the first full-length feature film written, directed, and performed entirely in Inuktitut; it premiered at the 54th Cannes Film Festival and was awarded the prestigious Camera D'Or. In 2015, Toronto International Film Festival members voted it the greatest Canadian film, ever. If you haven't seen it yet, well, what are you waiting for?

EH: Atanarjuat does what a great film must: it tells with a camera's eye a story that is more than the story. The long, long shots where what the protagonist is looking at finally appears through the white, the link between the magical world and reality so natural, the authentic characters, the cold that is real and not faked.

SAM: This film is a territorial treasure. The first feature film written and directed by Nunavummiut. It's likely to be the one film most not-Inuit will see. I need to watch it again.

MHC: I find the fiction films that came out of Igloolik are really amazing to watch because the actors are so good. There is a group of actors in Igloolik that are so good. It's almost like an Igloolik acting style. To me, it's really the actors in Igloolik are amazing, so every fiction film coming out of Igloolik, I would say, watch them.

2. Nanook Taxi (1977)

Director: Edward Folger

In search of money and a different way of life, Ningiuksiak (Joanasie Salamonie) leaves his home community of Cape Dorset for the "big city," Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit). The film follows Ningiuksiak as he maneuvers through a less traditional, more urban lifestyle, with all its amenities, temptations, and drawbacks.

EH: I'm so grateful now that this era was captured in film and featured one of my favourite actors and people, Joanasie Salamonie. At the time it was made, I was a young reporter at Nunatsiaq News and was amazed to see my world of Iqaluit in a film.

3. The Owl and the Raven (1973)

Director: Co Hoedeman

This lovely little short uses sealskin puppets to tell the tale of how the raven's feathers turned black, and what the owl had to do with it.

SAM: This is the first Inuktitut film I remember seeing on television as a child. I watch it regularly as an adult today. The story and song have stuck with me all my life.

4. Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change (2010)

Director: Zacharias Kunuk, Ian Mauro

This documentary brings viewers into the world of Nunavut hunters and Elders, collecting their stories and experiences related to climate change. The film prioritizes Indigenous knowledge, adaptations, and perspectives, bringing a strong, new voice to the ongoing debate.

AAB: I love this one because it's all about climate change, and the visible, noticeable changes that Elders and hunters are seeing. When you see different elders from different communities, thousands of kilometres apart, all witnessing and reporting the exact same thing, it becomes undeniable. Though Zach worked with a Western scientist, they totally avoided trying to "validate" the Elders' knowledge with scientific correlation, even though those exist. They just let the Elders speak.

5. The Sun at Midnight (2016)

Director: Kirsten Carthew

A teen is sent to spend the summer with her Gwich'in grandmother in a small, subarctic town after her mom dies and ends up forming an unexpected bond with a hunter.

AAB: This film is from the Northwest Territories, not Nunavut. Although it was very much about people and intimate conversations and human experiences, by the end of it I felt like it was just a love letter to the caribou. The love that that came across through this film for this animal and that population, it was just beautiful and devastating.

6. Maliglutit (Searchers) (2016)

Director: Zacharias Kunuk

Based on the 1956 western, The Searchers, Kunuk's second feature film takes off when a man returns from the land to find his wife and daughter missing, and sets off on a hunt to find his family and seek vengeance on their kidnappers.

MH: I love the film because it's new actors; younger people that were young when Atanarjuat was shot. I think that's very special. When I saw it, I was like, what a strange film; it has its own personality. It's proposing something different than the other films. The way [Zacharias Kunuk] plays with shadows...it's very mysterious.

7. Angry Inuk (2016)

Director: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

Angry Inuk is a multi-award-winning documentary that defends the seal hunt, examines the impacts of the European Union ban on sealskin on Inuit, and sheds new light on the motives and tactics of animal welfare groups.

SAM: This film strives to reach an audience typically closed to opinions on things like animal welfare and stands up for a way of life that many people don't know about.

Want to catch more secrets of life in Canada's North? Watch True North Calling Fridays on CBC (check your local listings)!

Anubha Momin is a blogger, freelance writer, and producer who splits her time between Iqaluit, Nunavut and Toronto, Ontario. Her blog, Finding True North, covers everything from how-to guides to interviews with the Prime Minister to Northern music reviews, taking a hyper-local approach that appeals to her Nunavut base as well as national readers.

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