Atanarjuat was filmed with an all-Inuit cast in Inuktitut on location
under extreme conditions. To achieve this on a modest yet professional
$1.9 million budget required serious arctic know-how. Igloolik Isuma
Productions Inc. has a prize-winning ten-year track record of realistic,
authentic, low-cost Inuit drama in this unique and challenging environment.
Getting top performance from an Inuit cast and crew required creating
an Inuit 'culture of production' -- with good humour, no fear, alot
of patience and a spirit of flexible cooperation and teamwork rather
than military-style control. Inuit have learned through the millennia
that people cannot overpower reality. Our objective was not to impose
southern filmmaking conventions on our unique story, but to let
the story shape the filmmaking process in an Inuit way.
For this reason, we wrote our script by a unique process of cultural
authenticity. First we recorded eight elders telling versions of
the legend as it had been passed down to them orally by their ancestors.
Isuma's team of five writers then combined these into a single detailed
treatment in Inuktitut and English, consulting with elders for cultural
accuracy and with our Toronto-based story consultant, Anne Frank.
This same bi-cultural, bilingual process continued through the first
and final draft scripts.
Atanarjuat's Inuit crew mixed experience professionals with first-time
trainees learning on-the-job skills needed for a future Nunavut-based
film industry. A small team of southern industry professionals trained
local crew members in make-up, sound recording, continuity, stunts
and special effects.
Altogether, the production employed approximately 60 Igloolik Inuit
as cast, crew, and support staff. Inuit jobs and local spending
on Atanarjuat pumped more than $1.5 million into the local economy
of Igloolik. This film will be the cornerstone of a new Nunavut
film industry: job-intensive and Inuit-owned. With Igloolik's 60%
unemployment rate and ten times the national rate of suicide, these
economic and cultural benefits were and are both deserved and desperately
Atanarjuat was shot on wide screen (16:9) digital betacam (NTSC),
transferred to 35mm film through a 'smooth motion' process with
true film resolution at Digital
Film Group, Vancouver. The film's visual strategy was designed
to heighten the audience's sense of being there, despite the exotic
locale. Even state-of-the-art digital cameras can take you places
a film camera could never go. The goal of Atanarjuat is to make
the viewer feel inside the action, looking out, rather than outside
looking in. This lets people forget how far away they really are,
and to identify with the story and characters as if they were just
Atanarjuat was co-produced through National
Film Board of Canada's Aboriginal Filmmaking Program. Established
in 1996, the Program provides designated funds for Native filmmakers
and continues the NFB's long-standing commitment to reach out to
communities traditionally underrepresented in Canadian film production.