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 needed.
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 like us.
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.