Zacharias Kunuk set to unveil Maliglutit, or Searchers, in Toronto this fall

Zacharias Kunuk says the set of his third feature film was the coldest to date. 'You'll see in the film, they have frostbite.'

Film set in 1913 features all-Inuit cast speaking Inuktitut

Benjamin Kunuk plays Kuanana in Zacharias Kunuk’s latest film, Maliglutit or Searchers. (Kingulliit Productions Inc.)

Zacharias Kunuk says it was the coldest month that he's ever been on set. 

Last March, he and a crew were on the sea ice near Igloolik, Nunavut, shooting scenes for Maliglutit, or Searchers, his new feature film that he plans to unveil in Toronto this fall.

"You'll see in the film, they have frostbite," he says. "We even got frostbite."

All the camera equipment, he says, "was coated with sheepskins so we had no problems."

Zacharias Kunuk, director of Atanarjuaq: The Fast Runner and Maliglutit, sits in his office in Igloolik. (Pat Kane)

Kunuk is the Cannes-award-winning director of 2001's Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, which was recently voted the number 1 Canadian film of all time.

That film featured an all-Inuit cast dressed in traditional fur garments, sleeping in igloos and speaking Inuktitut, and the new film will be similar. 

"That's our style," Kunuk says.

Only this time, it's 1913, and the first signs of modern life are apparent. 

"You'll see guns and scopes, Primus stoves, cups and dishes."

The fictional film is based on a true story. A man returns from hunting to discover his wife and daughter kidnapped, the rest of his family slaughtered. His father's spirit helper, the loon Kallulik, sets him on course to overturn fate and reunite his family.

Kunuk directed the film with co-director, Natar Ungalaaq, who played the starring role in Atanarjuat

It's part of a concerted effort to develop new talent in the community of about 1,800.

"We're using trained actors to train new, young actors," Kunuk says, adding that Ungaalaq also helped the actors on set.

Joey Sarpinak plays Kupak. (Kingulliit Productions Inc.)

He says it was a success, with new actors — Benjamin Kunuk, Jocelyne Immaroitok and Karen Ivalu — getting into character.

"That's number one for me. As soon as you can get into your character, it's not you, you're playing this role."

Kunuk says he plans to show the film in Igloolik in October.

with files from Kevin Kablutsiak