April 5, 2002

Action figures next step for Atanarjuat

Filmmakers want to fill Nunavut stores with Inuit toys


First there was the movie. Now there are action figures on the horizon for Atanarjuat, the first full-length Inuktitut feature film produced, written, directed and acted by Inuit.

The legend-based film has received numerous awards including the Camera D’Or for best first feature film at the Cannes Film Festival in France, helping to promote and raise awareness of Inuit culture.

Now it may follow in the footsteps of other great motion pictures by producing merchandise, namely action figures, with the hope of offering positive role models for Inuit children in Nunavut.

Producer Norman Cohn says the people behind the movie had the action figure idea in mind from the beginning.

"You go into the Northern Store or Co-op store in any Nunavut community, the toy shelves are filled with Star Wars action figures and World Wrestling Federation action figures and when kids take them home they are going to play with them in the World Wrestling Federation language and culture," he says.

"When we talk about it, people laugh but when we talked about the film people laughed in the first place. But we’re very serious, we know it’s a big job to do something like that and someone’s going to have to invest some money in order to make it happen."

Cohn says the movie has proven to be very popular with children and suggests action figures would be a fantastic tool for culture and language development and preservation.

"Kids all over Nunavut are playing Atanarjuat in the streets," he says. "We heard one story of some kid who went running around naked crying, ‘I’m Atanarjuat, I’m Atanarjuat!’"

Not only are the young embracing the movie, he says, now that the film has been released on video and shown in most Nunavut communities, he says he’s heard stories of adults making remarks that are lines from the movie, or telling jokes similar to those in the film.

Research is being done on how much it would cost to have action figures made, and Cohn suggests the Canada Nunavut Language Agreement, which provides several million dollars every year for initiatives that are designed to promote and enhance and preserve the Inuktitut language, might be able to help.

"We think that this would be a wonderful and quite unusual language project for the government to put up enough money to at least create the initial set-up costs to create a set of figures based on as many characters in the film as we can afford and get them out into stores all over Nunavut," he says. But he’s not stopping there.

Atanarjuat is currently wowing audiences in France, selling more than 200,000 tickets and playing in more than 80 theatres after its seventh week. Atanarjuat action figures would be a very hot item right now in French department stores, Cohn says.

If the film, which is being released in theatres in southern Canada April 12, and in the U.S. June 7, does as well in North America, Atanarjuat action figures could theoretically find a spot on the shelves in Zellers or Toys R Us. This could help people understand and become more familiar and sympathetic with Inuit culture, Cohn says, and encourage people to think in a more positive way about Inuit objectives.

If the figures are manufactured for a market wider than the 15,000 children in Nunavut, Cohn says, Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., the film company that made the movie, would need help from other outside sources, perhaps from the Nunavut Government.

Sylvia Ivalu, who plays Atuat in the movie, giggles when asked how she would feel about being immortalized as an action figure.

"The thought of action figures from our movie — it would be an honour I guess, because all you see are GI Joes and wrestling action figures, but it would be a whole new area for action figures," she says, adding it would be a positive thing for all Inuit.

"It would put more spotlight on Inuit and on our traditional culture. It would be showing our clothes if they were to make those figurines, because that’s what we wore."

She would like to see her likeness dressed in a miniature version of the atigi (traditional jacket) that Atanarjuat gives her in the movie and suggests it would be realistic to have tools like they did in the igloo and qamma (tent).

Cohn says he can’t say how or how soon this project could happen because they haven’t secured a sponsor, but he remains positive it will happen.

"Like everything with this film, people have to jump over their initial low stereotype expectations and think large, which is what we’ve been doing from the beginning and we haven’t been wrong yet."