Arnait meeting in the Coop hotel in Puvirnituq - January 28 2007
With Atuat Akkirtirq, Carol Kunnuk, Madelin Ivalu, Marie-Helene Cousineau and Susan Avingaq.
Hotel room of Susan and Atuat; Susan plays the accordion and Madelin is drumming, two more days of shooting to go.
Susan: Marie-Helene, what made you start the Arnait (Women’s) Video Workshop in 1990?
MH: Before I came to Igloolik, I was already interested in a woman’s point-of-view and women's work in the world. When I came to Igloolik, I realized that the men were doing things on one side and the women were doing things on the other side. I didn't really feel welcomed in the world of men, so I decided to look where the women were and what they were doing, and that's how I found the women's sewing group. I went there with my camera and I asked if it was ok to film them. When they said yes I felt welcomed and decided to keep going.
Susan: So you were alone, it was your idea?
MH: Yes. What made you interested in making movies together?
Susan: In 1990 I was not free because I had a husband. When there was an announcement on the radio inviting any women to come for a video workshop, I went to check it out.
I was just there to listen a bit. I was not free and I had to listen to my husband, do everything for him, but you said, "Women also can do things, they can make an effort for something." That made me think, “Hey I can do this, even if my husband does not want me to.” What really interested me was when you mentioned that both men and women can do the same thing, that they were equal.
MH to Carol: You are younger, before you started to work with us, you saw what we had done. Why were you interested?
Carol: I was interested in women’s culture, women's point-of-views, and the work they do. We are loosing our culture and language and the work you have done has made a very big difference to young people.
For example, I got interested in the qulliq (seal oil lamp) by watching your film Qulliq. I didn't know how to light a qulliq, my mother never taught me, so when I saw the video I said to myself, "I can do this too. I can speak-out more." It gave me more self-confidence.
Madelin: Last year when we started the Umiaq project, people were trying to put me down because I am a woman. They were telling me that I had failed trying to organize the sewing group and were trying to remind me of things that did not work in the past. But I thought to myself, "I am pretty sure this will work" and I didn't listen to anyone. So, we continued to work and finished the project!
MH: Where is that umiaq (traditional women’s boat) now?
Carol: It's at the beach.
Madelin: I'm happy that it is finished and, even though people where trying to put me down, I was strong enough to believe in myself.
MH: Of course! In the fifteen years that we have been working together, what are our favorite memories?
Madelin: When I quit smoking! The day we made the film Qulliq!
In the beginning, it was hard for us to get ideas for films because it was knew to us. My husband was supportive but I felt, like Susan, that women were put down. I felt that women could do so much more and make a difference. When they ask me, now, when I started making films I answer, "Years ago!"
MH: It is quite amazing! I didn't know that we would keep going when we started. We were meeting in available spaces and we had only a very small camera and no money, really. We had a small grant of $5,000.00 for the year and now we are making this big film!
Susan: Since I was a real Inuk at the time, I did not know anything about money, I just came to the first meeting because women were invited. When you started the video workshop, you would come in and out of town and whenever you would come in I knew that there was a program going on. You left when it was finished and there was nothing else going on! I wasn't working and I had no money. I was a housewife.
Atuat: I think that the movie we are making now is one of the best we have made, more of an Inuit culture document. I feel really good about it. It is really easy for me to work with you all because we always agree. With most directors, once they want something done a certain way that is it and the actors can get frustrated or angry. If the actors don't agree with the director they can't say anything. But we work as a team and make changes in the dialogue that make the actors feel comfortable. We work in an Inuit way.
Madelin: And when we didn't have a translator, we still could communicate. I would speak in Inuktitut and you (Marie-Helene) would speak in English and we worked together.
MH: Yeah, sometimes we would work like that. The interpreter would not show up and I was puzzled, but it worked-out. What do you think of the experience of shooting in Puvirnituq?
Susan: I liked it. At first I was afraid. I said to myself, "Should I do this or not?" I was afraid because I am a very religious person and involved in church activities. I knew that this movie was set in the past and we're not supposed to talk about the past. When I was a child, we were told we were not even supposed to think about the old ways.
So, I prayed and asked if I should be involved in the film or not. Then, I traveled to Pond Inlet to visit my family. We went to church on Sunday and I heard the minister, who was talking about also being a pilot for a diamond company, and I said to myself, "He is involved with church and he also has a job. I can help with the church and I can also have a job — I can help in Puvirnituq to make the movie." That gave me more strength and I started to accept it. I felt happy to be involved.
As a widow, financially, this job has also helped me a lot. It has given me self-esteem. I am looking forward to seeing the movie on the screen. I am really proud of it.
MH: Do you feel we are making a difference to people here in Puvirnituq?
Atuat: The Puvirnituq people were very welcoming and helpful. I'm happy that we decided to make the film here. Middle-aged people here are forgetting their culture and I think we are key to opening it up to them again.
Madelin: When I arrived here, I had my qulliq (seal oil lamp) on and they would ask how is was lit and what I lit it with. They wanted to know if I would get sick or irritated if I kept the qulliq on inside the tent!
Susan: Even though the Inuit in Puvirnituq make kayait, they did not now how to use a harpoon to catch a seal. We taught them how to make a blanket from a caribou skin. I also explained how to build a tent, there is a special way to skin a seal for that. I taught them how to skin. I was teachings all sorts of things.
I didn't learn any traditional skills here, but I taught a lot of them! What I learned in Puvirnituq is that we should be more generous and open as a community. They are very helpful people, very willing. If somebody needed a hand, they would come to help right away. Also, they drink their tea cold here and now I sometimes do that, too!
MH: Were you nervous about how people of Puvirnituq would receive us?
Susan: I wasn't worried before we arrived because they were Inuit, but when we approached them it became a whole different situation!
Atuat: At the beginning, I was wondering if all of the money was going to be spent on traveling from Igloolik to Puvirnituq. There are a lot of costs associated with traveling between the two sites. I remembered how the producers of Atanarjuat (2001– Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn) lost funding and it took time to raise more money. I am very surprised at how easy it is here! The weather always matches what the script calls for, the environment goes with what we want! I think we are supposed to be filming here and that’s why we are not having a difficult time. Things are going as scheduled.
MH: I know that is amazing!
Susan: One thing that worried me when I first approached the actors here was that although I was here to work on women’s props, I also had to tell the men what they needed to do. I had to teach them how to use traditional tools. It was a challenge for me!
MH: To teach men how to do things?
Susan: Yes. It was heart-breaking to find out that the men don’t know what they’re supposed to do. It really angered me! I knew I had to be polite, friendly, and welcoming. It was touching because it was my first time knowing how to do things that men did not know how to do.
Madelin: Remember the first time we came here and gave a screening of our videos? We were looking for women who could sew traditional costumes and it was very complicated. Somebody told me that once the elders pass-away, nobody will know how to make traditional clothing anymore. I thought, "This is too complicated, it isn't going to work." I was depressed. But, we kept on working.
MH: When we arrived, we realized it wasn't like Igloolik and we had to bring our costums and accessories from Igloolik here. We started from scratch, but people are going to be very happy with the job we did. I think the people from Puvirnituq learned a lot from all of you. And in many ways it was easier to do it here than in Igloolik.
Susan: Yeah it feels like that to me as well. Back home nobody is afraid of you and they don’t make an effort. They complain, or they don’t show-up at all. In Puvirnituq the people are more anxious to work.
MH: Yes, we have a working relationship with them.
Susan: What I am really proud of is that women are making this film. That makes me proud.
Madelin: We always say, "When I was younger, I did not know I would be here. I did not know I would work this hard!" We are amazed by the what we have accomplished.
(The women discuss the final scene which they will be shooting the following day)
Susan to Madelin: Tomorrow we will shoot the scene in which you drink water, so that is my concern. I know that you only drink water that is made from melted ice, so I have prepared some for you. We will also have some water ready in one of the tents if we need it for the continuity. In this scene Maniq (the grandson) dips into the water bucket to give you a drink.
Carol to Susan: If we keep the water in the bucket won’t it freeze?
Susan: In a seal skin bucket?
Susan: Yes, if it stays outside too long, then it will freeze-up.
Carol to MH: If the water is poured into the bucket and we
use it within half-an-hour it won’t freeze-up, but if it stays out in
the cold for more then one hour it will freeze.
Madelin: I kept one out today and it didn’t freeze.
Susan: That's because we boiled the water earlier, before the set was done.
Madelin: I would like the water to be cold, if I have to drink it.
Carol: Maybe we could even just get the bucket of water ready and for continuity pour some into the cup?
Susan: Yes. That's what I was just thinking! Or we could just keep the cup filled-up the whole time.
Madelin: Or use a skin pot — that can also be a water container. That’s what they used to do in the past, but, then again, the qajurtaq (caribou bone cup) is a bit too big to dip in to the pot.
Susan: Don't worry, there will be water.
Carol: Yes, we will do it so that when you have to drink the water in the scene you can have fresh, cold water.
Madelin: ii (yes)!
EVERYONE SMILES AND STARTS TO LAUGH !!
Madelin (with a laugh): Yesterday, I didn’t do so well in the scene where I had to make the paddles stand-up. They kept falling down!
EVERYONE LAUGHS WITH HER
MH: That was funny !!
MH: I liked Susan's reaction. She was saying, “You should have asked me first, because this looks too organized. It is not Inuit enough!”
Susan: I didn't know why you were calling for me, but when I came out of the cave I finally understood. I just took the paddles and stood them-up. That’s when I noticed that Alex and the crew were smiling. I wondered what was going on …
Carol: It was because of the paddles! The paddles kept falling down and Madeline had to speak at the same time! She had to say, “So people will know someone is living here.”
EVERYONE IS LAUGHING.
Susan: Well, that’s another day finished.
Carol: The exterior scenes are finished.
Madelin: What time is it ?
Carol and MH at the same time: It is 9:00 p.m.
MH: We have an early day tomorrow.
Susan: Tomorrow I start early. I need to warm-up the cave and prepare the set. I forgot to say something the other day, I'd like to thank you guys.
EVERYONE STARTS TO LAUGH.
Susan: Alliania. Very good.
Everyone says: Yes.
MH: Quyanamik (thank you).
Carol: Qujamgnamiralunga (thank you very much).
Susan says to Madelin: You want to play a game of cards? Before you go to bed?