Starring: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk
Director: Zacharias Kunuk
Distributor: Madman/AV Channel
Wearing fur is a controversial issue these days but it was absolutely mandatory if you were an Inuit living in the age before synthetic parkas. Atanarjuat is set at the dawn of the first millennium and every single character is bedecked in a startling array of fur outfits: the eponymous Atanarjuat (the fast runner) wears two pairs of seal fur pants in winter and gives his wife, Atuat a beautifully decorated seal fur top after his epic nude run across the frozen Arctic sea; Oki, the bedevilled man in pursuit of our hero, wears a remarkable hood made of white Artic fox fur (or is it rabbit?) with totally cool shades made of caribou bone and a necklace of walrus tusks… and so the wardrobe goes on.
But it’s not only the authenticity of the costumes that makes this two hour forty minute film a visual delight. It’s the fresh faces of the people wearing them and the stunning beauty of the far North captured throughout each of its’ seasons. There’s a sense that this is a dreamscape especially when you witness the vision of a tiny fur clad figure guiding his huskies across a panorama of blue ice in early winter with a liquid gold sky. And it’s a fitting illusion because Atanarjuat is essentially the stuff of myths. Based on local folklore, the story spins out around an evil spell cast on the community of Igloolik by a depraved shaman. Twenty years on, and seemingly ignorant of the spell, Atanarjuat chooses his wife who has long been betrothed to Oki. After a traditional bout of beating heads beneath the dome of the communal igloo, Atanarjuat is declared the winner but Oki cannot rest until his rival is eliminated.
This is the first all Inuit production and under the direction of first timer Zacharias Kunuk, every detail of traditional Inuit life is celebrated. At times it plods along with the inexperienced actors performing their roles in a manner as far removed from stars in the latest Hollywood blockbuster as humanely possibly but that’s what makes it so unique. These are real people reclaiming their history and sharing it with the rest of us in a way that can only make you admire their culture, delicately carved out, as it is in the most inhospitable yet breathtaking of environments.