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See The North On The Big Screen

See The North On The Big Screen

The film industry in the North continues to grow and capture audiences across the territories and the south
By Tim Edwards
Sep 27
From the October 2016 Issue

“At one point it would have looked like an army of Ski-Doos,” says Ellen Hamilton. On them were actors Tatiana Maslany and Dane DeHaan, Academy Award-nominated director Kim Nguyen and a mixed-crew of southerners and locals, chauffeured by hunters from Iqaluit out into the winter wilderness to film Two Lovers and a Bear. Set to premiere this fall, it was the biggest shoot to ever come to Nunavut when crews began filming in April 2015. Since then, two other big projects have gone through production in the capital, says Nunavut’s Hamilton who co-produced Two Lovers and a Bear. More and more, it’s locals behind and in front of the lens, and Northern stories being told.

Across the Foxe Basin from Baffin Island, in Iglulik, a small, yet highly anticipated film was being made. Zacharias Kunuk, writer and director of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, will be premiering his next film at the Toronto International Film Festival. Maliglutit, his take on a classic Western storyline, was filmed in March 2015 during one of the coldest winters Iglulik had seen. (They sewed sheepskin coats for the digital cameras.) Except for the sound crew and a cameraman, who were flown up from Montreal, all the cast and crew were local.

While film in Nunavut has been ahead of the curve in the North since Kunuk’s breakaway success with Atanarjuat, this current flurry of activity isn’t confined to the tundra: The NWT is experiencing its own cinematic genesis. Following the success of the film adaptation of The Lesser Blessed, which also premiered at TIFF, Fort Smith author Richard Van Camp has taken to the camera with gusto. As executive producer, he’s bringing his stories Three Feathers and Blue Raven to the screen and aiming to hire and train Northerners to fill every role they can. “I want to create a network of skilled Northerners, behind and in front of the camera, to take on projects around the NWT,” says Van Camp. “We will mentor you, we will put you up, we’ll work you like a rented mule but you will learn about the magic of movie-making. If you want to learn how to make movies, come on down; send us a note.”

In a region that knows only mines and government to be real cash cows, much to the dismay of any arts-minded youth, this is a sea change. These projects are big money—director and producer Kirsten Carthew says her feature, The Sun at Midnight, cost $250,000 and within five weeks most of that money had been dispersed back into the local economy—and offer entry into the world’s most glamorous industry. It’s never been a better time to pick up a camera in the North. “The NWT has the people who have the skills and ability to create top-quality products that can be sold to the international marketplace,” says Carthew. “It feels like we’re really at the start of something in the North.”

In the Yukon, the small screen is currently eclipsing the silver, but a boost is a boost is a boost; Screen Production Yukon Association president Chris McNutt told CBC earlier this year that all the reality TV crews flocking to the Yukon (to film Gold Rush, Yukon Gold, and Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet) are making it easier for home-grown filmmakers to get funding.


Coming soon at the Toronto International Film Festival:


Set in 1913 on the tundra, a man returns to his iglu after a hunting trip in winter to find his family slaughtered and his wife and daughter missing. In a beautiful take on the classic John Ford western, The Searchers, Maliglutit (Inuktitut for searchers) tells the story of a man’s journey to find those responsible and to reunite his family. Kunuk says those old westerns were what he and his friends watched in Iglulik at the community hall in the 1970s, and he’s always wanted to do a Nunavut take. While it’s not based on a true story, he says there’s historical precedent: “When I was a child,” says Kunuk, “... I went outside of my house to see a woman being tied up on a qamutik and taken away. Later I learned that’s tradition.” With a laugh, he added that tradition is long gone. 

Two Lovers and a Bear

This tragic romance, set in Apex, Nunavut, involves two lovers who are escaping their own histories of abuse while at the mercy of a mystical Northern landscape. It’s directed by Academy Award-nominated Kim Nguyen, and stars Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and a host of local Iqaluit actors.


To watch forin the future:

The Sun at Midnight

This stunning coming-of-age film, set in the majestic mountains of the very northwestern Northwest Territories, is the culmination of over a decade’s work by Yellowknife filmmaker Kirsten Carthew. The main character, 16-year-old Lia, is sent from the city to live with her grandmother in a small sub-Arctic community. Desperate to return to her urban life, she steals a boat and sets out, only to get lost in the vast wilderness. Luckily, she’s found by a hunter on his own journey to find a missing caribou herd. They form an unlikely friendship and face the odds together.

The Richard Van Camp canon

Richard Van Camp is the NWT’s most prolific novelist, and now he’s becoming the territory’s most prolific filmmaker. After the success of an adaptation of his book The Lesser Blessed—measured not only in its critical reception but in its use of local talent—he is keeping the train going by producing his stories Three Feathers and Blue Raven, which have been filming this year. Currently in post-production, you’ll see some of the same faces and characters in both films, as well as from The Lesser Blessed—Van Camp is determined to show his hometown of Fort Smith, its stories, and its burgeoning talent, to the world.

The Grizzlies

This movie tells the incredible true story of the Kugluktuk Grizzlies, which began as a lacrosse team and later grew to soccer, basketball, table tennis and volleyball teams as well. But more than that, the Grizzlies gave hope to a disaffected generation of youth in a hamlet that had the highest youth suicide rate in the territory, and helped build in them friendships and purpose.


Atanarjuat star Natar Ungalaaq returns to the big screen with a movie set in, and named after, Nunavut’s capital city. 

A woman comes to Iqaluit after her husband, a construction worker, is seriously injured on site. In trying to figure out what happened to her husband, she gets to know her husband’s friend (played by Ungalaaq) and they find out they have similar life stories, and serious
challenges ahead.