Tanya Tagaq's music to be removed from controversial film, Inuk singer tweets

Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq said on Twitter Thursday that the director of a controversial mashup film about modern-day life in the North is removing her voice track from the documentary. Filmmaker Dominic Gagnon responds that he will remake his art.

Filmmaker replaces throat singing with silence, ready to remake film as 'meditation on copyright'

Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon explains the thinking behind his controversial documentary Of the North

7 years ago
Duration 1:08
Of the North is a 74-minute collage film made up of publicly available clips drawn from internet sites like YouTube. There are images of everyday life, such as people snowmobiling and hunting.

Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq said on Twitter Thursday that Dominic Gagnon, the director of a mashup film called Of the North, is removing her voice track from the controversial film about modern day life in Northern Canada.

Tagaq said Wednesday she was prepared to sue Gagnon for using her voice track without her permission.

Gagnon's film screened last week at the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), raising the ire of several Inuit artists who called the film "racist."
Tanya Tagaq tweeted Thursday that Of the North director Dominic Gagnon, had agreed to remove her voice track, which she said had been used without her permission. (Ivan Otis)

Of the North is a 74-minute collage film made up of publicly available clips drawn from internet sites like YouTube. There are images of everyday life, such as people snowmobiling and hunting.

But there are also clips of Inuit appearing drunk, wrestling on the floor, crashing an ATV and vomiting. There's also one sexually explicit scene, of a half-naked young Inuk woman sitting on the knee of a clothed white man.

That content, as well as the fact that Gagnon has never actually visited the North, has angered many Inuit artists and others.

Tagaq — an Inuk from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut — took to Twitter Tuesday to say she was "disgusted" by the festival's decision to screen the experimental documentary.

Festival apologizes, seeks 'conversation'

The film festival issued a news release on Thursday, saying that it was paying attention to the criticism and taking it seriously.

"We do sincerely apologize that it hurts members of the public," said Mara Gourd-Mercado, the festival's executive director.

"We should have accompanied the film way better by having people from different Inuit communities, professors, ethnographers at the screenings to really have a conversation."

This screen shot of a young Inuk on a snowmobile is among the images found online and incorporated into Dominic Gagnon's controversial mashup film Of the North. (Dominic Gagnon)

Gourd-Mercado said the festival did not consider Of the North to be racist.

"It was programmed as a critical discourse on colonialism and its still devastating impacts, through a montage of images recorded and uploaded to YouTube by Inuit peoples," she said in the news release. "We believe that this film confronts stereotypes that have afflicted Inuit peoples."

Over the documentary festival's 18-year history, she said, it has presented films from all over the world and from a wide range of perspectives.

"Our mistake this time was not to accompany the film in the right way and not to do enough outreach to Inuit communities to make sure they would be present to have that conversation," Gourd-Mercado said.

Director defends his use of found footage

Of the North's director, Dominic Gagnon, began making films from found footage seven years ago, after losing the sight in his right eye and being unable to operate a camera any longer.

He describes his current work as "films about people who film themselves," and says the internet is a film archive.

"It's another way to make cinema. I'm a collage artist," he said. 

If there's only 74 minutes of black and silence, I think it would be a beautiful meditation on what is going on now with copyright.–Dominic Gagnon, director of 'of the North'

Gagnon doesn't sell his films, and he said that's what allows him to do things others cannot do.

"It would be indecent to take those visuals and sell them and make money."

One of his documentaries, Rip in Pieces America, is a collage of webcam clips that have been censored from video sites such as YouTube. 

So he sees nothing wrong in having put together a film based on found images put on the internet by people living in Canada's North, even though he hasn't visited the area himself.

"We live in the 21st century. I make films about people who film themselves, and the best way to find them is on the internet."

"For some people it's hard to understand how I work, but I have access to everything on the computer from here." 

Gagnon does not think the images are racist. On the contrary, he said, they show a certain sense of social solidarity. 

"Where people see a guy throwing up, I see a group of people trying to get out of [a bad situation], trying to see a different future than what they're in now," Gagnon said.

Gagnon thinks it's unlikely that many people who are being critical have seen the film.

"I think part of the problem is I'm not Inuk. But I've done films about Bulgarian street kids, about American survivalists, kids in orphanages in Vietnam. And no American came at me and said, 'America is not just about that.'" 

Throat-singing replaced with silence

Gagnon said he'd like to meet with Tagaq, the throat singer, and explain himself. 

For the time being, he's decided to replace the music he composed, inspired by one of her tracks, with silence. 

"I'm willing to take out everything that is disturbing in the film," Gagnon said. "If there's a problem with an image, I will put black leader." 

 "And if there's only 74 minutes of black and silence, I think it would be a beautiful meditation on what is going on now with copyright — about representation and the life up North and the difficulty to represent what's going on there right now."


Jeanette Kelly works as the arts reporter at CBC Montreal. She's also the host of Cinq à Six, Quebec's Saturday afternoon culture show on CBC Radio One.