Film documents impact of climate change on Labrador Inuit

'Lament for the Land' documents how changes are affecting Inuit, both culturally and emotionally. 'A lot of people in the audience cried throughout the film,' says filmmaker and researcher Ashlee Cunsolo Willox.
Noah Nochasak, one of the researchers on the film from Nain, Labrador, in a still taken from 'Lament for the Land.' The film, which documents the impact of climate change on the southernmost Inuit communities in the world, has been met with an emotional reaction. (Courtesy Ashlee Cunsolo Willox)

A new film about the effects of climate change in Nunatsiavut, in Labrador, was met with an emotional reaction at it’s international premiere.

Researcher Ashlee Cunsolo Willox began working on 'Lament for the Land' since January 2013. (Courtesy Ashlee Cunsolo Willox)
"A lot of people in the audience cried throughout the film and were very emotionally moved,” says Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities at Cape Breton University.

Lament for the Land documents how changes are affecting Inuit, both culturally and emotionally in the southernmost Inuit communities in the world. 

“We had a number of people after come up and just say how connected they felt to the film and how much they learned and how they suddenly realized this deep connection they had to the land and the ice and the snow."

The screening took place at the International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences in Prince George, B.C., last month.

"The ones that meant the most to us were the other circumpolar indigenous peoples who were in the room, who came up after and said, ‘You know, that's exactly how we're feeling in Norway or Alaska or Russia.’ That it was very reflective of their experiences and their love of the land and how things were changing for them."

Cunsolo Willox is the principal investigator of the Inuit Mental Health and Adaptations to Climate Change (IMHACC) project, from which the film emerged.

Five Inuit communities in Nunatsiavut — Nain, Hopedale, Postville, Makkovik and Rigolet ​— provided feedback during the film's editing process.

"We now move forward, kind of feeling that the story that we're sharing is the story that people in Labrador and in Nunatsiavut want to share, about what they want people to know."

Cunsolo Willox hopes the film will add a human factor to the issue of climate change, and be educational for people who haven’t had the privilege of travelling in northern Canada.

‘Like a release’

Inez Shiwak has witnessed climate change first-hand. She hopes 'Lament for the Land' will show Inuit in other communities that they are not alone in feeling its effects. (Courtesy Ashlee Cunsolo Willox)
Inez Shiwak works with the "My Word: Storytelling and Digital Media Lab" at the Rigolet Inuit Community Government and works on the same research project that became the basis for Lament for the Land.

For her, climate change is personal.

"When I was growing up, by Halloween, we had snow... but as climate change is affecting us more we can't get out on our Ski-Doos until January."

Shiwak describes the film screening as "like a release, because other communities were feeling this too. Not just us."

She says many Inuit are depressed since they spend fewer months on the land, and hopes the film can help other places get ahead of some of these problems.

Cunsolo Willox plans to show the film at some international conferences this summer. She’s also planning smaller film tours around Atlantic Canada.

Eventually, Cunsolo Willox hopes the film, and all of the research that went into it, will be made available online, for free.