How important was Atanarjuat’s success to you?
I didn't expect that much success. It was the first feature film in Inuktitut, by Inuit, and I was just aiming to see what mistakes we would make and learn from them. Apparently we didn’t make any!
How important is the community to make Isuma successful?
The community is very important because in this day and age people have to have an education in order to get a good, decent job. Most people here don't have an education, so, we're open for business. We're not looking for education, but Inuktitut knowledge. Old guys who don't have an education come to us to look for work.
What is the hardest part about making a film?
Finding the money. Getting the money. The hardest part is getting inside the organization. I remember in 1985 going to Canada Council for the Arts. Once they got to know us, it got easier, but when you make more ambitious films, feature films, then you get to know the people at Telefilm [Canada]. They didn't know us, but again, once they got to know us it was easier. [Now] we're in the system.
So communication and contacts are a very big part of this business?
For The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, how do you juggle your roles as a writer, producer and director?
In Nunavut, filmmaking is very new. There aren't that many people who know how to do it. Doing a feature film, you know how things go. You look for the story, then you go to pre-production; the costumes, the actors, etc. It's better to be a writer, producer, (and) director because then you're on top of everything. You know exactly what you want.
Do you have any rituals or superstitions before starting a shoot?
What do you mean? [Laughing] Not really, everything gets ironed out in post-production.
What has been the most rewarding experience while making a film?
The finished product. Showing it to the people, and having them like it.
How important is preserving Inuit culture in your productions?
Very important because Inuit don't really have anything but history. The voice is so distant in the system in this day and age – the Qallunaaq (white people's) system. When you don't know that system, you can't get funding. The Inuit voice is like that too. We're lucky to use this new technology because you don't need paper and pen. You can just sit down with an elder in front of a camera and talk and it goes on the record. It's very important because they finally get to talk back.
You were recently on a cultural tour of Inuit collections at museums in the Eastern United States. How much influence did that have on you?
It was amazing. It touched me a lot because all this time we're making films, creating cultural programs, always imagining this and that, such as the props. We will ask hunters to make this and the ladies to sew that. Then in the museum, you'd pull open a drawer and there's a 180-year-old amauti (woman’s parka). You could see how they stitched it and the beautiful work they put into that coat. We thought that in that day and age all Inuit were poor, but they weren't. They were very rich. They weren't just barely surviving in a harsh environment – not if they could make [something] like that. And the artwork: someone had to take a lot of time and make perfect objects. Like an ulu (curved woman’s knife) [I saw]. They put a lot of superstition in[to] it. The clothing, too. That tour was an education for me. Like I learned about a Shaman's necklace. I thought the bear claws hung down (outward) and [t]here I am in a meeting, holding a Shaman's necklace. It's the other way around from how we always assumed it was made. So it was a learning experience for me.
So there were aspects of authenticity that you learned there that you can now bring to the film?
Who would you say that you rely on the most?
Elders. Elders, because if they're right, it's going to be right. If I try to do it from my own artistic point of view, what if they're right and I'm wrong? It wouldn't work. So I rely on the elders.
How do you feel this project is going?
As planned. Everything's almost in place. I mean we still have to finalize actors, which we'll do this week. It's pretty well under control.
Walk me through your typical day.
I'm in the office, I check my e-mail and spend an hour or two answering them, talking to the crew and everyone's very focused. Today was about these boxes. Boxes that you'll probably never see in a film, but they have to be there. Louis, he‘s running around and buying caribou skins (laughing) and it's just like that.
Any hints about future projects?
There's a lot. There's a lot to do. Isuma has just touched this area. What if you go to Pond or Pang[irtung], or Pelly Bay? They must have tons of good stories. For example, Captain William E. Parry (came) in 1822 and there is that story of his winter here in the harbour. I would love to make a children's feature film about trolls that go after children. Yeah, there's a lot!