Of the North: Quebec film festival pulls controversial doc from lineup

The Quebec film festival Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois has pulled the latest documentary from Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon from its 2016 lineup.

RVCQ says experimental documentary about Inuit culture is ‘source of great controversy’ in Quebec

A still from the mash-up film Of the North by Quebec director Dominic Gagnon. The film has been pulled from the RVCQ film festival. (Dominic Gagnon)

The Quebec film festival Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois (RVCQ) has pulled the controversial film of the North from its 2016 lineup.

The experimental documentary, directed by Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon, has been called "racist" by some Inuit artists.

Although the film has been screened in festivals around the world, it is a "source of great controversy here in Quebec," said Dominique Dugas, director of RVCQ.

of the North is a 74-minute collage film about modern day life in Northern Canada.

It is made up of publicly available clips drawn from internet sites such as YouTube. It's a mash-up of snow, Ski-Doos, hunting and family life, and it also offers a window on industrial development in Canada's North.

In its original version, it included clips of Inuit appearing drunk: wrestling on the floor, crashing an ATV and vomiting. There's also one sexually explicit scene.

The film continued to draw criticism after Polaris prize-winning musician and throat singer Tanya Tagaq threatened legal action. She said her music was used in the film without her permission. Her voice track was ultimately removed.

Dugas said that in spite of the controversy, the initial plan was to include the film in the festival's lineup.

"RVCQ had the objective of not only showing the film, but also organizing, in parallel, a discussion about the film and Inuit culture — to put in place a framework for thinking about the themes addressed in the movie and the portrayal of the Inuit people in films," Dugas said.

"Despite these efforts, it was impossible for us to achieve this, and we therefore considered it preferable to remove the film from the RVCQ's lineup."

of the North's director, Dominic Gagnon, has said in a past interview with CBC that he feels he has the right to use videos that people post of themselves online.  

He admitted he's never been to the North but said that his critics missed the point of the film. He said it is not about Inuit but about how people film themselves.

He also disputed claims that of the North is uniformly negative.

Film festival ethics?

Some members of the Inuit community are applauding RVCQ's decision to pull the film from the festival, which runs from Feb. 18 until Feb. 27.

"I think the problem is this film portrays this negative stereotype, but it does not give any context. It doesn't educate," said Stephen Agluvak Puskas, a producer for the Montreal-based Inuit radio show Nipivut and a project manager for Nunalijjuaq, a research committee exploring Inuit experiences in Montreal and Ottawa.

"I think a bigger discussion that's not being talked about is the ethics behind these film festivals that show these films," Agluvak Puskas said.

He said he was disappointed the film was screened at other festivals around the world including in Kosovo, Great Britain, Switzerland and New York.

"I think it's because they're capitalizing on the controversy — that this is a film that is really provocative, it induces strong emotions," said Agluvak Puskas.

"Many think that this will get attention, this will get people to come to the film festival," he said. "I really want film festivals to be held accountable for what they show."