In 1985, the Inuktitut-language video, From Inuk Point of View, broke the race-barrier at Canada Council for the Arts when Zacharias Kunuk became the first Inuit or Indigenous applicant ruled eligible to apply for a professional artist’s grant. Kunuk was the video’s director; Norman Cohn was cameraman; Paul Apak was editor; and elder Pauloosie Qulitalik told the story, and by 1990, the four partners formed Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc. to produce independent video art from an Inuit point of view. Early Isuma videos featuring actors recreating Inuit life in the 1930s and 1940s were shown to Inuit at home and in museums and galleries around the world.
Over the next ten years Isuma artists helped establish an Inuit media arts centre, NITV; a youth media and circus group, Artcirq; and a women's video collective, Arnait Video Productions. In 2001, Isuma’s first feature-length drama, Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, won the Camera d’or at the Cannes Film Festival; in 2002, both Atanarjuat and Nunavut (Our Land), a 13-part TV series, were shown at Documenta 11 in Kassel, Germany. Isuma’s second feature, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, opened the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, and its third feature, Before Tomorrow, written and directed by Igloolik’s Arnait Video Productions women’s collective, was screened in World Cinema Competition at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. In 2008, Isuma launched IsumaTV, the world’s first website for Indigenous media art, now showing over 6,000 films and videos in 84 languages. In 2012, Isuma produced Digital Indigenous Democracy, an internet network to inform and consult Inuit in low-bandwidth communities facing development of the Baffinland Iron Mine and other resource projects; and in 2014, produced My Father’s Land, a non-fiction feature about what took place during this intervention. Recent projects include the feature drama, Maliglutit (Searchers), the TV series, Hunting With My Ancestors, and the world’s first Haida-language feature film, SGaawaay K’uuna (Edge of the Knife), winner of six Leo awards, “Best Canadian Film” and “Best BC Film” by the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival, and named one of “Canada’s Top 10” films by the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Most recently, Kunuk, Cohn and the 30-year Isuma media art project represented Canada at the 2019 Venice Biennale, and shared new work at the 2019 Toronto Biennial. Their newest feature, One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and won “Best Canadian Film” at the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Dr. Zacharias Kunuk O.C.
Born in 1957 in a sod house on Baffin Island, Zacharias Kunuk was a carver in 1981 when he sold three sculptures in Montreal to buy a home-video camera and 27” TV to bring back to Igloolik, a settlement of 500 Inuit who had voted twice to refuse access to outside television. After working for six years for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation as producer and station manager, Kunuk co-founded Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc. in 1990 with Paul Apak Angilirq, Pauloosie Qulitalik and Norman Cohn. In addition to Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, Kunuk has directed more than 30 videos screened in film festivals, theatres, museums and art galleries. He has honorary doctorates from Trent University and Wilfred Laurier University; is the winner of the Cannes Camera d’or, three Genie Awards, a National Arts Award, and the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and the 2017 Technicolor Clyde Gilmour Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association. In 2019, Zacharias Kunuk represented Canada at the 58th Venice Biennale (with Norman Cohn). Zacharias Kunuk was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2015 and an Officer of the Order of Nunavut in 2019.
Born in 1946 in New York, Norman Cohn travelled to Igloolik in 1985 to meet Zacharias Kunuk and Paul Apak after seeing videos they had made while working for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. In 1990, assisted by a Guggenheim Fellowship, Cohn moved to Igloolik, where, with Kunuk, Apak and Pauloosie Qulitalik, he co-founded Igloolik Isuma Productions, and helped develop Isuma’s style of “re-lived” cultural drama by adapting the authenticity of video observation to the art of Inuit storytelling. Cohn’s experimental video work began in 1970 in the U.S.; he immigrated to Canada in 1976 and became a Canadian citizen in 1981. In 1983, Cohn’s exhibition of 16 videos, Norman Cohn: Portraits, opened at the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, Musée d’art contemporain de Montreal and 49th Parallel Gallery in New York. In 1987, his experimental non-fiction feature Quartet for Deafblind was shown at Documenta 8. In 2019, Norman Cohn (with Zacharias Kunuk) represented Canada at the 58th Venice Biennale.
Paul Apak Angilirq
Born in 1954 on the mainland near Igloolik, Apak was a hunter, dogteamer and still photographer when he began his career in 1978 as a trainee in The Inukshuk Project, Canada's first venture to train indigenous TV producers in remote communities. Apak joined Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in 1981 and in 1992 was honoured by IBC with a Special Recognition Award for his career contribution. An experienced adventurer, Apak filmed The Qidlarsuaaq Expedition driving one of three dogteams retracing a 19th century Inuit migration from Igloolik to Qanaaq, Greenland; and Through Eskimo Country, helping to build and sail a traditional walrus-hide boat from Siberia to Alaska through the Bering Strait. Apak wrote the story and Inuktitut screenplay for Atanarjuat The Fast Runner based on interviews with elders. He passed away from cancer in December 1998 before the film was completed.
Born in 1939 on Baffin Island, Qulitalik was Canada's first unilingual Inuk filmmaker, working for Inuit Broadcasting Corporation in Igloolik from 1990-1992 and receiving a landmark Canada Council grant in 1992 as Isuma's producer for Saputi (Fish Trap). Qulitalik served for many years as Chairman of Igloolik's Community Education Committee, concerned with ensuring Inuit culture was included in the school curriculum. As elder Chairman and co-founder of Isuma, Qulitalik oversaw the cultural authenticity of every Isuma production, and played lead acting roles in many, including Qaggiq, Nunaqpa, Saputi, the Nunavut (Our Land) TV series and Atanarjuat The Fast Runner. Qulitalik passed away in 2012.
Contact, Distribution, International Sales
Kunuk Cohn Productions / Isuma Distribution International Inc. / Kingulliit Productions (southern office)
5333 Avenue Casgrain #910
Montréal, QC CANADA
tel: +1.514.486.0707 / fax .9851
info [at] isuma [dot] tv
Kingulliit Productions Inc.
P.O. Box 223
Igloolik, Nunavut, CANADA
Zacharias Kunuk, President: zkunuk [at] isuma [dot] ca
Lucius Barre (Press, New York): lucius [at] rcn [dot] com
(previously posted in 2006)
Igloolik Isuma Productions, Inc. was incorporated in January 1990 as Canada's first Inuit independent production company. Isuma is 75% Inuit-owned. The founding shareholders are Zacharias Kunuk (President), Paul Apak Angilirq (Vice-President), Pauloosie Qulitalik (Chairman), and Norman Cohn (Secretary-Treasurer). Paul Apak passed away in December 1998. Isuma’s headquarters are in Igloolik, Nunavut, with a southern office in Montreal and international representation in New York.
Isuma's mission is to produce independent community-based media – films, TV and now Internet - to preserve and enhance Inuit culture and language; to create jobs and economic development in Igloolik and Nunavut; and to tell authentic Inuit stories to Inuit and non-Inuit audiences worldwide.
Beginning in 1988, Isuma’s unique style of ‘re-lived’ drama - Qaggiq (Gathering Place, 1988), Nunaqpa (Going Inland, 1990), Saputi (Fish Traps, 1993), and the 13 part dramatic TV series, Nunavut (Our Land, 1994-95) - achieved worldwide recognition and acclaim, winning awards in Canada, France, Peru, USA, Spain, Taiwan and Japan.
In 1999, Isuma filmed the first Aboriginal-language Canadian feature movie, Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, a $1.96 million historical thriller based on an Igloolik legend of love, jealousy, murder and revenge, with financing from Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board. Filmmaking in Igloolik in 1999 contributed $1 million to the local economy, creating more than sixty part-time and twenty full-time jobs in this isolated and under-employed community.
Among other international festival awards, Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., was named 1996 Nunavut Business of the Year by the Baffin Region Chamber of Commerce, and, in 1997, received the President's Award from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. for '…outstanding achievement in preserving and enhancing Inuit culture and language…'. In 1994, Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn won Canada's prestigious Bell Canada Award for Outstanding Achievement in Video Art.
The Dawn of the Millenium
Atanarjuat The Fast Runner won the Caméra d'Or for Best First Feature Film at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival, six Canadian Genies including Best Picture and 19 international festival awards overall. The film was a box office success in France, Canada, the U.S. and twenty other countries around the world, and more than sixty international film critics named it one of the Ten Best Films of 2002.
The Canadian box office success of Atanarjuat The Fast Runner won Isuma a 3-year Performance Envelope of financing from Telefilm Canada, enabling Isuma in 2003 to begin developing seven new scripts for future productions. In 2005, the first led to The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, a $6.3 million Canada-Denmark co-production set in 1922 Igloolik, when Inuit changed from Shamanism to Christianity. The Journals was selected to open the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival, with the release date set for September 29, 2006.
In the Summer-Fall 2006, Isuma’s next feature in production for 2007 release is Before Tomorrow, based on a novel by well-known Danish writer Jorn Riel: the story of an Inuit grandmother and grandson who find themselves the last humans on earth. Before Tomorrow is written and directed by the Arnait Video Productions, on a $3.5 million budget.
Isuma also produces and distributes documentaries for television including most recently, Artcirq (2001), Kunuk Family Reunion (2003), Urban Inuk (2005) and Kiviaq vs. Canada (2006). In 2003, Isuma entered into a co-venture with Kunuk Cohn Productions to establish Isuma Distribution International (IDI), to distribute and sell Inuit and other Aboriginal films and television series in Canada and internationally. Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and Before Tomorrow are all distributed in Canada by Alliance Atlantis MPD, and internationally by IDI.
In 2006, Atuqtuarvik Corporation, the investment agency representing the Nunavut Land Claim, invested $1 million in Igloolik Isuma Productions to help develop new capacity and growth of Inuktitut films and television programming. Isuma has several new films in development as well as a children’s television series.
In 1991, with support from Canada Council of the Arts, Isuma helped create Tarriaksuk Video Centre, the Arctic’s first independent non-profit video training and access centre. Through the 1990s, Tarriaksuk sponsored Arnait Video Productions (Women's Video Workshop), Inuusiq (Life) Youth Drama Workshop and began local broadcasting through cable television Channel 24. Beginning in 1995, Channel 24 produced over 300 news and current affairs programs called Nunatinniit (At Our Place).
Arnait Video Productions
In 1999, Arnait Video Productions incorporated as the first women’s collective independent production company in the Arctic. Arnait continued to produce programs from the women's point of view, which have been exhibited in festivals and museums in many countries, including Ninguira (My Grandmother, 1999), a half-hour drama about women and health; Anaana (Mother, 2002) and Unakuluk (Dear Little One, 2006) about Inuit adoption. Currently, the key members of the Arnait women’s group are writing and directing Isuma’s third feature film, Before Tomorrow scheduled for release in 2007.
Innusiq & Artcirq
In 1999, Inuusiq (Life) Youth Drama Group was created to use art, performance and video as tools by youth to combat youth suicide. This led to production of Inuusiq (Life, 1999), a one-hour docu-drama, and Artcirq (2001), a documentary about Igloolik’s youth circus and video performance group. Artcirq and the Innusiq group currently are developing a youth feature film to be produced by Isuma in 2007-08.
Nunavut Independent Television Network
In 2001, Tarriaksuk and Channel 24 evolved into a new non-profit society, Nunavut Independent Television Network (NITV), to expand local access television in Igloolik and develop use of internet-TV (IPTV) to link other Nunavut communities with increased Inuktitut-language TV programming. Join us Fall 2007 for the official launch.