For this Iqaluit filmmaker, 17 minutes of film led to years of learning
“It means great motivation to keep on doing what I’m doing”
Abuse is hard to talk about, but it’s important to bring it up, especially in Nunavut, said Iqaluit filmmaker Stacey Aglok Macdonald, who produced the short film “Throat Song.”
The 2011 film, written by writer and director Miranda de Pencier, follows a young Inuk woman named Ippik, played by Rankin Inlet actress Ippiksaut Friesen, who is caught in an abusive relationship.
Their film has been nominated for a Canadian Screen Award — an honour that combines the Genie and Gemini awards — in the best live action short drama category.
Aglok MacDonald, from Kugluktuk, is happy about the nomination.
“It’s exciting and I’ve been trying to work in film for a long time, since I was in my early 20s. I’m so happy. It means great motivation to keep on doing what I’m doing,” Aglok MacDonald said.
The 17-minute “Throat Song” was shot around Iqaluit, mostly in Apex.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and since then has travelled to many venues, including the Rhode Island and San Francisco film festivals.
At first, Throat Song wasn’t being picked up and then “all of a sudden it was like this big rush of festival after festival.”
Attending the Toronto awards ceremony in March will give Aglok Macdonald an opportunity to meet people in the film industry who she’s admired for a long time, such as Sarah Polley.
“It’s a pretty big thing… there are a lot of people that I recognize and admire,” she said.
But the film, which shows the landscapes of Iqaluit and Apex, deals with serious subject matter such as spousal abuse and rape. And audience members’ response to it can be emotional.
After a screening in Iqaluit, some women were crying in the bathroom, where Aglok MacDonald went to comfort them.
“They said it was because they understood it and they thanked me, and they said that it was a very important story to tell,” she said.
But the producer was scared when people first started responding emotionally to the film.
“I remember my heart beating and being a little bit scared. It’s always so scary putting that kind of work out there, especially since it’s such a very difficult story. It’s about abuse, rape and alcohol,” she said.
“There’s always a lot of pressure on your shoulders to tell the story right.”
However, Aglok MacDonald is proud of how Throat Song turned out.
She learned “a lot of lessons” during the production of the film, from writing to the process of taking it to festivals.
“I’ve been learning a lot over the past few years from this one 17-minute film,” she said.
The idea for Throat Song was sparked by a teen acting workshop in Iqaluit that de Pencier and Aglok MacDonald held while they were scouting for actors.
“A lot of them had talked about suicide in their life and how it had affected them, abuse and alcohol, emotional subjects that kids talked about to try and trigger their ability to act,” Aglok MacDonald said.
After that, during a trip to Rankin Inlet, the pair met a woman who spoke about her experiences as a young adult working in victim support at the justice department.
She had to go out and interview victims of crime and abuse, and at that point she was going through some difficulty in her own life, Aglok MacDonald said.
The story built from there.
“It was definitely inspired by true stories, people sharing their realities and we kind of seamed the different stories together,” she said.
About 25 people worked on the film altogether and most of the crew came from Nunavut.
“This was my first drama experience and I loved it,” she said.
For many of the actors, it was also their first drama experience, and in some cases it was their first time acting on camera.
“Ippiksaut Friesen was amazing in it,” Aglok MacDonald said.
The entire project took about a year to complete, with four and half long days of filming.
Throat Song was funded partly by Nunavut Film, the Kitikmeot Economic Development Corp. and the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage.