Award-winning Nunavut documentary Qipisa connects filmmaker with her past

Qipisa, a 'universal' story about the fight to maintain Inuit traditions in modern Nunavut society, picked up the Young Hope award at this week's Montreal First Peoples Festival.

Film follows Pangnirtung's Myna Ishulutak as she visits outpost where her ancestors lived before settlement

Myna Ishulutak (left) lights the qulliq (a traditional Inuit oil lamp), in a scene from Qipisa. (Submitted)

Qipisa, a "universal" story about the fight to maintain Inuit traditions in modern Nunavut society, picked up the Main Film Young Hope award at this week's Montreal First Peoples Festival.

The 35-minute documentary follows Myna Ishulutak as she visits the remote outpost, called Qipisa, where her ancestors lived before settlement.

"It's kind of my life story," said Ishulutak. "We started filming when I was packing to move back." 

Myna Ishulutak went to Qipisa, an outpost camp where her ancestors lived before they were forced to move to a settlement. (Submitted)

Ishulutak says she was prompted to create the film after one of her sons asked her about how Inuit once used qulliit [oil lamps].

"I was very surprised. [I thought] I'm not sharing my story."

Growing up in Pangnirtung, where people from Qipisa were forced to relocate, Ishulutak says she remembers her mother lighting the qulliq in their qammaq [sodhouse].

'Something was missing'

After consulting with elder Meeka Arnaquq, her longtime mentor, Ishulutak decided to set out making the film, though the process was difficult. 

Ishulutak says she was going through something in her life at the time.

"It seemed like something was missing in me. I was searching."

Aïda Mt, the film's cinematographer and editor, says the film, while deeply personal, "is universal."

Earlier this year, when a rough cut of the film was screened in Iqaluit, Mt says elders and youth alike said "that's my story."

But Mt says she was surprised when Quebecois at the Montreal First Peoples Festival felt the same way.

"When you feel removed from your grandparents' and parents' traditional knowledge, you feel removed from something that you care for. And you feel in some way, lost from it."

Filmmaker Myna Ishulutak says she made Qipisa to learn more about her own history. (Submitted)

Emotional screening

The film was nominated for four awards at the festival and took home one — the Main Film Young Hope award for first- or second-time filmmakers.

Ishulutak says she felt overwhelmed as she accepted the honour, speaking alternately in English and Inuktitut, "even through no one understood what I was saying," because speaking the language is such an important part of respecting the culture. 

"I was thinking about my ancestors, my grandfather," said Ishulutak. "I got emotional even talking about it at the screening, talking about how my grandfather was a good leader at the camp."

Ishulutak and Mt say they wouldn't have been able to make the film or attend the festival, if it weren't for funding from Nunavut Film. 

The pair would eventually like to broadcast the film on television, where it can reach a broader audience.