Circus Without Borders hopes to inspire Iqaluit festival-goers

The Alianait Arts Festival in Iqaluit is showing Circus Without Borders, a film about how circus troupes Artcirq and Kalabante support young performers in Igloolik, Nunavut, and Guinea, West Africa.

Artcirq founder Guillaume Saladin wants people who see the film 'to take action'

In between musical performances and cultural workshops, Iqaluit's Alianait Arts Festival is serving up a free screening of Circus Without Borders, a documentary film about how two leaders are using art to inspire change in their communities.

It follows the incredible friendship of Guillaume Saladin and Yamoussa Bangoura, who founded, respectively, Igloolik's Artcirq and the Kalabante in Guinea, West Africa. 

"The stories have to do with the history of the Inuit people in Igloolik and the way in which the young people are able to go back to their roots, their heritage, that to some extent they've been cut off from," said producer Linda Matchan.

The idea for the film stems from an experience Matchan had while visiting Pangnirtung.

After returning from a hike, the Canadian-born journalist witnessed the incredible effect of suicide on Canada's Arctic. A young woman had taken her own life, leaving behind two young children.

"That community had been brought to its knees in grief and in mourning," she said.

"I began to wonder — why would this happen?"
Circus Without Borders tells the story of Yamoussa Bangoura (left), founder of Kalabante, and Guillaume Saladin, founder of Artcirq, who are both using circus performance to inspire youth. (Michele McDonald/Circus Without Borders)

When Matchan found out about Artcirq, she knew it was a story that had to be shared.

The film sheds light on the challenges facing many young Inuit, including unemployment, poverty and a disconnection from traditional values, but it is also chronicles the connection between two world-class performers.

"[Saladin and Bangoura] seem like total opposites. It seems as though they're completely different people on completely different paths," said the film's director, Susan Gray.

"Despite all of our outward differences it's really a story about the universality of humanity."

Overcoming intense challenges

The film took seven years to produce, and took the crew to Nunavut, Guinea, the United States and France.

A film about both Nunavut and Africa was a tough sell to investors, but eventually the creators were able to collect the necessary funding through social media and organizational grants.

"At first I thought, 'Again, some Americans trying to make a flash story about us,'" said Saladin, adding that over time the performers came to realize what the filmmakers were trying to do.

"They were able to get into our circle of trust."
Last year, Artcirq performed Asiu at at the Alianait Arts Festival. This year, the troupe from Igloolik will perform on June 30 and July 1. (Submitted by Ellen Skura)

Gray says both circuses "overcame problems along the way" and persevered: the group from Igloolik lost Solomon Uyarasuk, who died while in police custody; the group from Guinea struggled with supporting themselves and their families. 

When the film debuted in the United States several months ago, Gray says the audiences "got it."

"We got a standing ovation for a very long time and everybody said that they had tears in their eyes."

'Do something with it'

The members of Artcirq have already seen the film, but this Monday will be the first time Circus Without Borders is shown in Iqaluit.

"I really hope that this video can inspire other people, just to follow their passion and to share with the rest of the world," said Saladin.

"To do something with it, not just be touched by watching the movie, but to take action after that."

The film has already been a source of personal inspiration for Matchan.

Over the course of filming, her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died four years later.

"There were many times when I thought, 'You know, it would be so much easier for me to back out of this,'" she said. "What really kept me going was thinking about Kalabante and Artcirq and how what they are all about is never giving up."

"That's what I learned from these circuses: to have faith in yourself and to just keep moving forward."

The Alianait Arts Festival presents Circus Without Borders and the short film Kajutaijuq:The Spirit That Comes at 6:30pm on Monday, June 29 at the Astro Theatre.