On Monday, I spoke with filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril of Iqaluit, Nunavut, about her documentary Angry Inuk that was just released on Super Channel. She shared some insights on her experiences both during and after creating this film.
What motivated you to tackle a documentary about the anti-seal hunt campaigns and their effect on your community?
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril: As a doc filmmaker, I guess the sealing issue has always been an issue for Inuit; growing up in this environment and knowing how much we were affected by anti-seal hunt campaigns. At some point, I just felt it was my responsibility to cover this issue.
In retrospect, what do you wish you had included or said that was not in the film?
Editing is always painful as a documentary filmmaker. There are always scenes that you wish you did not have to cut or shots that you wish you could have done but could not afford to do so. There was a scene with some elderly ladies processing some seal skins and a young woman learning from them. I wish I could have included more with the young woman learning from them.
There was also a beautiful scene where one of the elderly women was playing a game with the young woman and a young boy. She was teaching them this game that they play with seal bones. It is kind of like Pick up Sticks or Jenga. You try to move pieces without moving other pieces and if you move one the other person can attack you. It is a fun little traditional game for Inuit to learn that most of us have heard of but few have played in detail. This elder knew all of the names for the pieces and how the game is played. It was such a neat thing to see her teaching this and how attentive the young ones were to her. I would have loved to keep that in there but it was kind of a long scene and the film is already kind of long for a feature.
Since Angry Inuk has already aired at various film festivals, have you noticed any changes with respect to attitudes about sealing?
Well, there are definitely immediate changes for individuals who have seen the film at festivals. I have had people come up to me and say, ‘I am a vegan and I have been supporting these anti-seal hunt campaigns my whole life,’ or saying, “I am a vegan and I will always be a vegan but I totally support Inuit commercial seal hunters.’ It has been really amazing that people at the other end of the spectrum from me in terms of eating meat and wearing fur, to see them come to our side even if those choices don’t make sense for them, their lives, and where they live has been totally amazing.
But now that it is being broadcast on TV, I think a lot more people will see it. Festivals are wonderful for getting media attention but the audience is small. With the broadcast it will be interesting to see how having the film on TV will change public opinion. However, I think it will take time to see change on a larger scale.
Often when you travel to other parts of Canada or outside of Canada if you just say the words ‘seal skin,’ the immediate reaction from people is that it is bad. I am really curious to see how this plays out over the next couple of years after the film has had a wider audience. To see if public opinions change. That is the long term goal. I wish it could turn on a dime but it will take time.
What advice do you have for other Indigenous artists out there who are working to oppose these types of racist fiscal policies?
I don’t know that I am in a position to give advice. I am just trying. I don’t know if [Angry Inuk] will work. I guess I would say: when it feels like such a big fight, when it feels like such a David and Goliath situation, have hope. A lot of people have asked me and asked Aaju Peters, one of the main people in my film, ‘Why don’t you just give up?’ Aaju said something once when someone asked, ‘Are you hopeful?’ and she said, ‘Well of course I am hopeful. You might as well lay down and die if you are not going to be hopeful.’ I think of that a lot. No matter how bad a situation may feel, you have to be hopeful and plug away at it. Trust that if you just keep speaking your truth and giving your perspective that people have to hear you. So I hope.
Do you have any other messages that you want to get out there to people who live in the south?
I really hope people take away from the film or even if they just hear about the film is that the Inuit, against all odds, are the environmentalists and the animal welfare activists. They are out there on the grounds protecting the animals in the Arctic. We are on that side of things. I want people to see us as the guardians of the Arctic. I think it has been the opposite for a long time. I think the anti-seal hunt campaigns and the climate change campaigns have put us in a position of defense and it is so ironic because Inuit are the ones, and it is the Inuit hunters actually who are the ones out there defending it all. I just hope that that is what my film will accomplish. That people will have that shift in their brain and see us as the guardians and to trust what we say when it comes to the environment and the animals in the Arctic.
And do you have any last thoughts for young people who over the Christmas holidays will be channel surfing and stumble on Angry Inuk as they click on by?
I think when you see an unfair situation, no matter how little you are, or how insignificant you feel, or how unimportant the world seems to think you are or treat you, I think it is possible to have your voice heard and to make a difference. The Inuit are a tiny and remote population and are the poorest in North America and the most disenfranchised in North America and the fact that we are able to get this film made and seen and are responding to it, if we can do that, anyone can. I think that when you see unfair situations, it is worth trying to do something about it.
Angry Inuk is available on Super Channel On Demand until Dec. 28.