Entertainment

Atanarjuat producer recalls postponed Sept. 11 premiere at TIFF

The anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks has special significance for Nunavut filmmaker Norman Cohn, whose acclaimed first feature with Zacharias Kunuk, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), had originally been scheduled to play at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11, 2001.

The anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks hasspecial significance for Nunavut filmmaker Norman Cohn, whose acclaimed first feature with Zacharias Kunuk, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), had been scheduled to play at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The last time Zach and I were here with a film at the Toronto film festival was with Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), which was scheduled to be shown at 6:30 p.m. at the beautiful old Elgin Theatre on Sept. 11, 2001," Cohn told CBC News.

The pair, who have worked together since the the mid-1980s, had travelled from Igloolik with about a dozen actors, costume-makers and other crew members for the occasion of the movie's Canadian premiere. It was also to be the film's first Canadian screening after winning the prestigious Camera d'Or at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival.

"We woke up that morning, went down for breakfast and watched the Twin Towers fall down on television with everybody else," Cohn recalled.

Cancelled screening, sobre gathering

Though film festival organizers cancelled all screenings that day, Cohn said his colleagues decided to continue with a gathering that had been scheduled for after the premiere. Those who attended "joined together on the night of Sept. 11, feeling that day and [asking] what did it mean."

The next day, organizers returned to the regular schedule, he said.

"They decided that they should go forward with the rest of the festival, in the way that people have felt they should go forward ever since."

Postponed premiere

The debut of Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) was rescheduled for two days later at the luxurious Roy Thomson Hall, the more than 2,000-seat venue usually reserved for the festival's glitzy, red-carpetgalas. But the last-minute change meant a smaller-than-expected audience saw the film that day.

"We had about 250 people and it was a spectacular screening. And at the end of that screening, the 250 people gave us a standing ovation," Cohn said.

"As the entire team from Igloolik … came out, they stood there and the audience clapped for 10 minutes straight and basically told us that this film — with its story about murder and revenge and forgiveness — was an alternative to that story that had unfolded two days before."

"That audience, I think, was the most emotional audience that we had," he said.

Cohn and Kunuk returned to Roy Thomson Hall last Thursday, where theirsecond feature film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, screened as the festival's opening night film this year.

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