Scenes Through Snow-Goggles: Take Two

Scenes Through Snow-Goggles: Take Two

by Nancy Wachowich

Wednesday, April 20, 2005


Filming shamanic rituals

Today is the day that the crew and actors are filming the tiviaq ritual scene inside the snowhouses. Inuit were formerly a nomadic people. Throughout much of the year they travelled in small extended or nuclear family groups. People would go without seeing their family members and friends for months or sometimes years on end. When two or three groups came across each other on the land, and food was a plenty, it was time to celebrate.

Children would be betrothed during this time and marriages would be arranged. A large ceremonial igloo (called a qaggiq) would be built for camp members to come together to feast, sing, dance, play games and perform various rituals.

Shamans would compete, showing off their tricks. I have read that they would do things like levitate, fly around the igloo, shape-shift into different animals and visit other faraway worlds under the sea ice. Tiviaq's were spirit beings that played a part in these rituals. That is all that I can say about them here. The Isuma directors want this scene to be a secret, so we will have to wait until the film is out in theatres. Suffice to say that the aim of today's shoot was to enact the ritual that would have occured when Rasmussen's party met with Aua's group.

Travelling out to the set this morning, I was a bit apprehensive. I suspected that re-enacting a ritual may be a difficult task for some of the Iglulingmiut members of the crew, especially the older ones. Christianity was brought to the region around the time that the movie is set (1920s). The missionaries who arrived to the north preached that shamanism was the work of the devil. They preached hell and damnation for those who continued with shamanistic rituals. Many of the Inuit elders who I interviewed in the early 1900s in Pond Inlet refused to talk about shamanism. They clammed up when the topic arose. I sensed that this might be a delicate shoot.

Does anyone know what is happening?

That is the phrase that I heard most today. At least from the non-Inuit crew members who, I suspect, like me, have a more rigid notion of time than their Inuit colleagues. My friends who work for the movies down in Vancouver and Toronto say that much of their days are often spent standing around and waiting to hurry. My friends who live in the Arctic say that trips out on the land can often start like that. Similarly, my first few hours on the set at the igloo palace were spent hovering outside the igloos with the cast and other crew members, stamping my feet to ward against the cold, and chatting.

Everyone seemed to be waiting for the filming to start, yet no one knew quite when it was going to happen. As the day progressed, the wind picked up and whipped right through my arctic winter parka. I headed to the catering tent for some hot chocolate.

The blue elastic hair tie

In the catering tent, the talk was all about a blue elastic hair tie. The catering tent is a transitional site between the settlement and the set. A few minutes walk from the igloo palace, it is where the snowmobiles drop off the actors and crew so that the engines will not be heard on set.

Manning the tent is Gilles Choquette (also known as Ungalaaq). Walkie-talkie in hand, he runs thermoses of coffee, hot chocolate and tea down to the actors when they radio him a request. Lines of plastic coffee cups with people's names felt-penned on them are hung on nails on the wall. With Gilles were a group of Greenlandic and Iglulingmiut women actors getting dressed for the shoot. They were darkening their faces with skin-tints and doing their hair in braids in an effort to look more "traditional". They were also admiring each other's skin clothing. Piujualuk! That is the Inuktitut way of saying "Isn't that nice!".

The woman who plays Nutarajuk (Sidonie Ungalaq) had a blue elastic in her hair, so the women were going back and forth among themselves about how to cover it up. Inuit women would certainly not have had blue pony-tail holders in the 1920s. What if it shows up in a scene? Do they use a felt pen to make the blue elastic black, replace it , or cover it up a leather tie? We can't have a blue heir elastic show up in a 1920s Inuit ritual.

So many cameras

Warmer and re-fuelled, I moved back to the igloo palace, where the temperature and tempo inside the big central igloo was picking up as actors and crew members started to congregate. A snow bench padded with caribou furs lined the walls. I sat myself near the doorway with my notepad and pencil and watched as actors in elaborate fur costumes gathered around and Sila, CBC, Isuma and Barok Film videographers filmed the event.

There were also individual actors and crewmembers with their own digital cameras. Norman Cohn and Zach Kunuk stood near the centre of the Igloo and discussed the events to be filmed that evening. The evening was being pitched as kind of planned and kind of spontaneous and improvisational. "This will be like a party", Norman Cohn said to some people he was speaking with, "We will see what unfolds!"

Two flashes went off. A group of Igloolik actors began to sing traditional Ajaajaa songs. Two of the men started to drum dance in tempo. One drum dancer had five lenses on him at one time. He did not seem to notice. People up here are used to having cameras pointed at them.

The event takes over

How much of this was filming and how much of this was ritual? Did the cameras affect what was going on? Who knows. The singing became louder as the Iglulingmiut actors prepared themselves for the ritual to take place. Greenlanders, Danes and other white folk who did not know the songs sat quietly on the side and drank in the atmosphere. All of the sudden, the singers stopped and everyone headed over the catering tent for some beef stew and spaghetti. After dinner, those of us who were not actors were asked to leave. What happenned with the tiviaq ritual? We will watch it at the theatres...

Over and out.



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