Two Yellowknife residents are using one-of-a-kind technology to connect communities separated by thousands of kilometres of ice and snow.
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Buried beneath snow and ice
In winter, Canada’s Northwest Territories are a stretched-out marshmallow of pure white. Only small specks of evergreen dot the vast landscape that endures temperatures of -20C to -30C and is largely buried beneath snow and ice for much of the year.
Despite the challenging climate, approximately 4,300 Inuit reside here, with another 55,000 scattered in communities across northern Canada. In the Northwest Territories, a vast area that spans more than 1,346,000 sq km, staying connected isn’t always easy. But two filmmakers in capital city Yellowknife have found an unexpected way to bridge the distance. Through the medium of movies, they have not only helped bring people together, but also given them a renewed sense of cultural identity.
(Credit: Pat Kane)
Two men building an industry
In 2013, Jay Bulckaert and Pablo Saravanja had the idea of empowering Inuit people to tell stories from the point of view of the North, and dispel the stereotypes they see all too often in mainstream films.
They formed aRTLeSS Collective, a small film production studio and multi-media entertainment company, to teach residents how to operate cameras and edit film.
Bulckaert and Saravanja also launched the Dead North Film Festival, a home-grown horror, sci-fi and fantasy short-film event designed for amateur filmmakers living above the 60th parallel, particularly from the Northwest Territories.
Having a film festival is one thing, getting people in remote places to attend is another. Jason Tologanak, a native of Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, and social cultural development director of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA), had a similar problem. Tologanak was in charge of planning the association’s 40th anniversary celebration, but he was struggling to find a way to involve Inuit people living outside the Arctic territory who weren’t able to attend.
The solution was worthy of a Hollywood studio’s PR department. By live-streaming the two-day festival on YouTube, they found a way to unite Inuit groups across thousands of kilometres.
(Credit: Ken Mackay)
Preserving a culture on screen
Representing herself and her culture on screen is important for Inuk filmmaker and Yellowknife native Kayley Mackay. The mother of two boys devotes her spare time to making movies, some of which feature her children. Her eldest son, Desmond – whose Inuktitut name is Uqqok – wants to be a YouTube star. (He’s pretty sure that that’s the highest honour you can get in the world of film-making.)
“I make sure that I put [my boys] in connection with as many people as I can to round out their cultural experience,” Mackay said. “I also embrace that we're modern-day Inuit.”
(Credit: Ken Mackay)
A new way to stay connected
Mackay’s film, Little Man, starred her sons and her sister, Tiffany Ayalik, who won the festival’s award for best actress.
Around 150 people physically attended the awards ceremony in Yellowknife in late February, 2017, while another 7,300 people tuned in via Facebook.
“Our lead actress and my sister Tiffany couldn't be at the festival or the awards,” Mackay said. “For her to be able to tune in live and see what was happening – we were all in the moment together even though she was on the other side of the country. It was really cool. Things like the Internet have connected us in ways that we never envisioned.”
(Credit: Pat Kane)
A greater reach
By live-streaming the ceremony on Facebook, Bulckaert and Saravanja have inspired a broader audience than they could have possibly imagined.
For instance, Joseph Quiqqiaq, Jr., a television maintainer and radio programmer for stations based out of the tiny Nunavut town of Taloyoak, wasn’t able to bring himself and his family to the festival. But after hearing about the film that will be shown in Cannes, he told Bulckaert and Saravanja how this sparked his aspirations to join A-list celebrities in the south of France.
“I am definitely submitting a film to Dead North and I will make a short film for 2018’s fest in hopes that I can go to Cannes too,” he said.