Film shows Inuit views on climate change

While most academics publish research papers, geography professor Ian Mauro has taken a different tack — making documentary films.
Ian Mauro (left) and Zacharias Kunuk spent months in Nunavut communities to film Qapirangajuq - Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. ((Ian Mauro))
While most academics publish research papers, geography professor Ian Mauro has taken a different tack — making documentary films. 

Mauro's latest research project, titled  Qapirangajuq – Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change is the world's first documentary on climate change as told by Inuit in their language.

Mauro is pioneering what he calls "video research" — using filmmaking techniques to find and publish scientific discoveries.

"We made a film and people are telling their own perspectives, and their own stories, and that really inverses the dominant way of doing research," Mauro said Thursday.

"Instead of this ivory tower approach, this is a democratic way that makes the research make sense to people, because it's just storytelling. In this way, tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of people can ultimately see the research," he said.

Qapirangajuq was Mauro's post-doctorate research project. It's a one-hour film piecing together dozens of interviews with Inuit elders, who speak of their fears about environmental change brought on by global warming. 

It will be featured this Saturday, at the Reel Green Film Festival in Winnipeg.

Spent months in the north

"The Arctic is changing faster than any ecosystem on the planet," Mauro said. "And so when we talk about climate change, Inuit are on the front lines."

Nunavut elder Paul Quassa is one of the film's subjects. ((Qapirangajuq))
In 2008, Mauro completed his PhD in the University of Manitoba's department of Environment and Geography. He then created Qapirangajuq as a post-doctoral study through the University of Victoria.

Mauro co-produced it with Canadian Inuk producer Zacharias Kunuk of "Atanarjuat - The Fast Runner" fame.

The pair spent months in Nunavut communities filming interviews with Inuit speaking Inuktitut  – the main language in the high arctic.

Paul Quassa is a Nunavut hunter and elder featured in the film. Quassa talks about how so-called southern health experts advise his people not to eat local fish, because they have been contaminated by mercury brought on by changes in the ecosystem caused by global warming.

"They say we should slow down eating our traditional diet. But this is our traditional food, we can't just stop eating it," Quassa said through a translator.

Academic resistance

But Mauro's use of filmmaking in academia has been controversial with some former faculty members.

"With past films that I've made, there has been resistance from the university community specifically about whether or not filmmaking is actually research," says Mauro.

Mauro had to prove filmmaking is a legitimate form of research, can be peer-reviewed, and can generate genuine scientific discoveries.

Recently, he was granted a prestigious Canada Research Chair to continue his work.

His new employer, Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, will get $500,000 to allow Mauro to teach students what he calls the "Human Dimensions of Environmental Changes" using video techniques.

But some feel his work is more advocacy than research.

Mauro's former PhD supervisor at the University of Manitoba, Stephane McLachlan, says it's both. 

"We largely reject the idea that research should be neutral. That premise is … value-laden, that science is objective," McLachlan said.

Mauro said making films allows thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, to witness the research output rather than a few dozen academic peers.

"We live in the YouTube generation and this is how people get information. And as researchers I think we have take advantage of those tools."

Qapirangajuq - Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change is being screened Saturday at the University of Winnipeg's Lockhart Hall.