Family history inspired Kunuk for Rasmussen film
The real-life events that inspired Zacharias Kunuk's latest film The Journals of Knud Rasmussen have special meaning for the Inuit director, who says his own family's history was directly affected by what occurred nearly 90 years ago.
Shot in the Igloolik area, about 850 kilometres west of Iqaluit, Knud Rasmussen is based on a real-life ethnographic study of Inuit people by Danish anthropologists in the 1920s. The plot revolves around Avva, the last great shaman, as he is forced to make a choice between his traditional beliefs and Christianity.
For Kunuk, Canada's best known Inuk filmmaker, the story had a personal significance.
"I was born into an Anglican family. When I was growing up, we weren't even allowed to tell Inuit stories or drum dance. Our Anglican minister didn't allow it," he told CBC News.
"All these things go through your head and you try to find out what happened, what happened to us."
For years, Kunuk and filmmaking partner Norman Cohn have sought to explore the relatively short period during which the Inuit converted to Christianity.
"We shared, from the time we met, an interest in what happened that took Inuit from 4,000 years of independence and success in this spectacular environment to suddenly being people who were at the bottom of the ladder," the Montreal and Igloolik-based Cohn told CBC News.
"I think Zach and I were always curious to know how you got from shamanism to Christianity."
Though they have worked together since the mid-1980s creating documentary-like "re-lived dramas" as well as television productions, Kunuk and Cohn blasted onto the international feature film scene in 2001 with their subtitled, indie epic Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.
The historical thriller, based on an Inuit legend, was released worldwide to critical acclaim and won a host of honours, including the prestigious Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
A gala presentation of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen on Thursday night officially opens the 31st annual Toronto International Film Festival, which runs to Sept. 16. The film will be released in Canadian theatres Sept. 29.