Okpik's Dream, Montreal filmmaker's 1st doc, nominated for Canadian Screen Awards

Okpik's Dream, a documentary by Montreal filmmaker Laura Rietveld about a champion dog musher in Nunavik, is now a nominee for Best Documentary Program at the Canadian Screen Awards.

'No film in the North gets made without the help of people in the North,' says first-time Montreal filmmaker

Harry Okpik and Director Laura Rietveld (Catbird Productions)

Okpik's Dream, a documentary by Montreal filmmaker Laura Rietveld about a champion dog musher in Nunavik, is now a nominee for Best Documentary Program at the Canadian Screen Awards.

Rietveld's first film follows Harry Sam Willy Okpik, an amputee who lives in the remote Inuit community of Quaqtaq, Nunavik, as he prepares to race in the Ivakkak, a grueling, 600-kilometre Inuit sled dog race across the Quebec Arctic.

Rietveld spoke with CBC Montreal about how it feels to be nominated, what it was like to shoot over the course of four seasons, and the impact of the documentary.

On how it feels to be nominated
'One-Legged Harry' Okpik on his ATV (Catbird Productions)

I'm really surprised and excited!

No, [I didn't expect any recognition], and I think it would be safe to say that Harry Okpik, who the film is about, didn't expect any recognition either.

I'd like to tell him before he finds out on social media so I did shoot him a quick email, but we haven't chatted. But I know that he will be thrilled.

On Okpik's Dream
Harry Okpik, Gary-Joe Angnatuk and their dog team are excited as they arrive in Umiujaq on March 18, 2015. The Okpik team finished fourth in that year's race. (Pierre Dunnigan/Makivik Corp.)

Okpik's Dream is about Harry Okpik who is a 60-year-old champion dog sled musher who's an amputee. He lost his leg through a hunting accident and the film is really about how, at any given moment, life can cut you down, but what makes us unique as people is our resilience.

On what it was like to make the film
The Okpik's Dream crew film the Ivakakk departures. (Katarina Soukup/Catbird Productions)

It was my first one. I have no film training — I'm a former business person.

It was the hardest thing I've ever done.

It's very difficult working in the Arctic due to the conditions — it's -50 degree weather. Film equipment doesn't like the cold and logistically it's very difficult to film in the North. So there were a lot of challenges to take on.

I would like to make another film. I now have a better idea of how difficult it is to make a documentary, so I want to be sure about the topic. I've been taking time to really think about it.

On filming with a young child

I was eight months pregnant during our first shoot — I flew back two days before you can no longer fly. And then I was up again four and half months after giving birth and worked on [the film] for about two years.
Montreal filmmaker Laura Reitveld says making Okpik's Dream, her first film, was the hardest thing she had ever done. (Katarina Soukup/Catbird Productions)
So the first couple of years of my son's life, his mom was back and forth to the Arctic, and I hope one day he'll look back on that and be proud of it.

On her takeaways from the film

No film in the North gets made without the help of people in the North. I'm greatly indebted to many people that helped to make this film. We tried to put as many people as we could in the credits — that could be from lending their truck, to lending a place to stay, to filming. So that was a big takeaway — a film in the North is a collective effort.

For me, what I'm thinking about in terms of the film is that at any moment, life can throw you a curve that you weren't expecting. In Harry's case there were many — the dog slaughter, an accident. Through each of these, he chose to fight, and rise up and overcome his circumstance.

Right now, because my father also has had a near-fatal injury, I'm definitely thinking about that message.

On the response to documentary
Okpik's Dream won an award at the 25th First Peoples Festival in Montreal on August 3, 2015. (Okpik's Dream)

It's been great! We have a big following on Facebook. People are really into this film. I think it's been shown on CBC about five times in 2015 and every time that it's shown, it's been a tremendous response, especially from people in the North. We're very proud of it.

It seems to resonate with people who are interested in the North, for people in Nunavik who don't often get to see themselves on television, Harry's community, dog lovers, and people who are interested and compassionate about our history here in Canada and our relationship with First Nations.

Watch Okpik's Dream here

The 2016 Canadian Screen Awards winners will be announced March 13.