Film festival brings Inuit perspective to climate conference

A festival of films documenting the impact of climate change by Indigenous filmmakers from around the world opened Wednesday in Copenhagen in conjunction with the United Nations climate conference currently underway.

A festival of films documenting the impact of climate change by Indigenous filmmakers from around the world opened Wednesday in Copenhagen in conjunction with the United Nations climate conference currently underway.

The UN-sponsored Indigenous Voices on Climate Change Film Festival will screen 22 short documentary films by filmmakers from Tajikistan, Panama and other areas affected by climate change.

One of the filmmakers featured is Canadian Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, who produced and directed the critically acclaimed films Ataranjuat and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. He will screen a 15-minute portion of his new film, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, on Thursday.

Kunuk worked with climate scientist Ian Mauro of the University of Victoria and Inuit elders to tell the story of climate change.

One of the people Kunuk features in the film is Siila Watt-Cloutier, former international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council from 2002 to 2006 and a leading activist on issues related to global climate change.

"Climate change here in the Arctic is very rapid," Watt-Cloutier says in the film. "The effects and impacts of climate change challenge and threaten our very life and our ability to exist as an indigenous people."

Scientists such as Mauro agree that the impact of climate change will be felt more in the Arctic than in other parts of Canada. The observations of people living on the land are an important part of the body of evidence about climate change, Mauro told CBC News.

"I've been literally emailing with NASA scientists about the observations … that Inuit have around changes to the sun and the stars and the position of the Earth on its axis," Mauro said.

The words of traditional hunters and elders seem to bear out climate scientists' evidence that global warming is already affecting the North.

"We live among glaciers," says Jamesie Mike, an elder from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, in the film. "The glaciers never melted in summer, but now, they melt. That is a noticeable change "

Festival to be screened online on Isuma TV

Kunuk interviewed several elders to paint a picture of the effects of global warming on weather and the animals.

"In the last 10 years, I've really noticed that the inlets would freeze up in October where we hunt seals at breathing holes," said Tabitha Mullin, a hunter from Resolute Bay. "Now, we do this in November."

Another Resolute Bay elder, Dora Pudluk, sees a difference in the quality of skins her people get from seals.

"What I have noticed — I'm not sure if it's the climate change or the mining companies that is the cause — but in the past, the condition of seal skins and fur was excellent, but since mining and perhaps climate change, the quality and health of sealskins has declined," she said.

Elders speak of unusual winds, melting sea ice and a sun that seems hotter than before.

Kunuk says he hopes that people will be impressed by hearing elders in the North speaking with one voice in his film.

Also part of the festival is Maara, by filmmaker Félix Pharand, about a young Inuk who is seeking ways to drastically reduce energy consumption in his village. The six-minute film is already available through the online indigenous TV channel Isuma TV.

Isuma TV will screen all of the festival films as part of a live internet broadcast hosted by Kunuk and Mauro from Igloolik, Nunavut, on Dec. 10 p.m. between 12 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET.

"We don't need to travel there and burn more fossil fuels," Kunuk said. "We can use digital technology to share what we have found with the world."

The festival runs until Saturday.

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change will be released as a feature-length film by Igloolik Isuma Productions in 2010.