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A road movie on ice

Inuk ingress (Ingressbilde)

The participants at IPY-OSC were some of the first in the world to see the Greenland feature film Inuk on Wednesday. The film is about 16-year-old Inuk and his difficult journey through his own country and in his own mind. “Powerful and authentic” was the response of a packed cinema.

The PolarCINEMA programme, a side event at the International Polar Year Oslo Science Conference in Lillestrøm, is in full swing. During the week, about 100 films - short and long, ranging from podcasts to feature films - are to be shown at the conference venue. Most of them are documentaries about polar science projects, but on Wednesday it was time for the first feature film ever made about and in modern Greenland - and in the Greenlandic language too.

Social anthropologist Jean-Michel Huctin, actor Ole Jørgen Hammeken and Inuk director Mike Magidson.Photo: John Petter Reinertsen/Samfoto
Social anthropologist Jean-Michel Huctin, actor Ole Jørgen Hammeken and Inuk director Mike Magidson.

"Inuk" is the story of a sixteen-year-old boy who lives a troubled life with his alcoholic mother and violent stepfather in Greenland's capital. One day he is sent by social

services
to a children's home on a tiny island in the middle of the Arctic sea ice. There, Inuk meets Ikuma, a local polar bear hunter, who has his own share of problems. The warm-hearted director of the children's home, Aviaaja, asks Ikuma to take Inuk on his annual seal-hunting trip. He agrees, and they embark on a dramatic dogsled voyage.

Indigenous perspective
The history behind the film began in March 2000, when social anthropologist Jean-Michel Huctin returned to France after years of living with the Inuit on a tiny island in northern Greenland. Determined to tell their story, Jean-Michel teamed up with French producer Sylvie Barbe and American director Mike Magidson. The team collaborated with their Inuit friends to make two highly acclaimed TV documentaries. Despite their success, Jean-Michel and Mike realized that the documentary form has its emotional limits, so they started to make their first feature film, Inuk.

"We wanted to tell the real story," Jean-Michel said.

Both Jean-Michel Huctin and Mike Magidson were present at the screening on Wednesday. Together with Ole Jørgen Hammeken, who plays Ikuma, they presented the film before it was screened and answered questions from the public afterwards.

"I am very glad we didn't shoot the film this year. We had the worst mild winter ever," explained the actor, drawing attention to the effects of climate change that many people on Greenland are already experiencing firsthand.  

Gaaba Petersen as Inuk and Sara Lyberth as Naja.Photo: C'est la Vie Films ©
Gaaba Petersen as Inuk and Sara Lyberth as Naja.

With global warming, the sea ice in Greenland is becoming weaker and more and more unstable, making hunting difficult and dangerous. This problem, and the way it affects the culture and identity of Greenlanders, is an important theme in the film, which opens with this line:

"Outsiders are always surprised about the number of words we have for ice; but to us Inuit, ice is more than just a word. It is our soul."

Not professional actors
Ole Jørgen Hammeken and the other actors are not professionals, which came as a surprise to many of the audience.

"They are ordinary people playing roles close to their real lives: teenagers from a home for neglected Inuit children and local seal hunters," said director Mike Magidson. "This illustrates just how authentic the film is." He added that the actors he and his team worked with in making Inuk are the most professional non-professionals he has ever met.

Jean-Michel Huctin is sure that the teenagers and other locals who appear in the film realise how important Inuk is as a way of communicating the problems facing the Inuit on Greenland.
"And this will become even clearer to them as more people see the film."

Strength to solve their own problems
After the showing, Mike Magidson explained that the film is completely independent.

Watching movie trailers outside the PolarCINEMA.Photo: John Petter Reinertsen/Samfoto
Watching movie trailers outside the PolarCINEMA.
"We didn't want to show a story where we had to make commercial compromises. So it's only our own money we've risked in this project," he explained. He is very grateful to and impressed by his technical crew, who worked in temperatures as low as minus thirty, in an area 500 km north of the Arctic Circle, filming in a language they did not understand - and for the lowest pay in the history of the cinema.

"But this isn't a film that is meant to have limited appeal or show only the dark side of life. We could have created a much starker story, and it would still have been true, but we chose to give it an optimistic angle."

"We wanted to show that Greenland has the inner strength to solve its problems," added Jean-Michel Huctin.

Wider distribution
Now Mike Magdison and Jean-Michel Huctin are trying to get the film out to the public. They are negotiating with distributors and talking to festival organisers.

"Please talk to as many people as possible about the film," Mike urged the greatly moved audience afterwards.

In addition to the showing at the conference venue, Inuk was shown at the film club Cinemateket in central Oslo on Wednesday evening, as part of their polar film festival this week.

PolarCINEMA continues until Saturday. You will find the programme here.

Top photo: C'est la Vie Films

Last updated: 11.06.2010