Toronto

Inuk filmmaker mourned

Friends, family and well-wishers are set to pay tribute to the memory of a man who some call Canada's first Inuk filmmaker.

Family and friends are paying tribute to the memory of a man who some call Canada's first Inuk filmmaker.

Mosha Michael's first short film, Natsik Hunting, was about a seal and caribou hunt made for the National Film Board in 1975.

Michael also composed and played the film's music. He also made two more NFB short films in the 70s, The Hunters (Asivaqtiin) and  Whale Hunting (Qilaluganiatut).

Film producer Peter Raymont was Michael's mentor at the time. He produced all of Michael's films.

"He just was a natural, you know? He had a gift. He had an eye. He had a sensitivity. He was very smart, very sharp," he said.

But years later, Raymont would see Michael homeless on the street in Toronto, either trying to sell his soap sculptures or begging for money.

"In Toronto, it was very difficult for him. It's a hard town when you're from the Arctic," said Raymont. 

Michael had struggled with alcohol since he was in his 20s, although "it wasn't until he turned 50 that he started drinking a whole lot more," said his sister, Naulaq LeDrew.

Michael died in Toronto's St. Michael Hospital on Tuesday, a week after undergoing surgery for internal bleeding caused by multiple organ failure. Michael was 61.

'I blame alcoholism for his death'

LeDrew said she had a hard time seeing him on the street and tried to get him to move in with her family. But he refused, saying he preferred to live on the street.

"I blame alcoholism for his death, so I'm a little angry at that," she said.

Michael first started filming with a small camera that belonged to his father, said another sister, Annie Michael.

Mosha Michael grew up in Iqaluit, and had a tough childhood. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a boy, and had to be sent to a clinic in Hamilton, Ont., for a year. He also had to attend a residential school in Churchill, Man.

While residential school was  hard on Mosha, Annie said "he learned a lot over there — he learned how to play music, how to read and write."

But Annie believes being away from his home and his parents as a child contributed to many of his struggles later in life. "He was always somewhere else — in school or hospital," she said.

A memorial service will be held Saturday afternoon at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto.

Michael's short films will be shown before and after the service.