Inuit push back against U.S. screening of controversial film
"We feel that the film has strong artistic merit," festival organizers say
The controversial film Of the North screened this past weekend at a New York City festival, despite pointed criticism from a group of Inuit.
Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon’s film, a 74-minute collage of video clips — many of them taken in Inuit communities — first ignited protest when it was screened at a Montreal film festival last fall.
Nunavut singer Tanya Tagaq made headlines when she lobbied the Montreal festival and the filmmaker to remove her own music, which was used in the film without her permission.
But a more recent petition targeting the Museum of the Moving Images’ First Look festival did not succeed in convincing organizers to pull the controversial film from its line-up, which screened Jan.10.
Stephen Puskas, a Montreal Inuk and radio producer posted the petition Jan. 8, urged the festival to cancel its screening of the film.
His petition has since gathered more than 1,304 signatures from Inuit and other Canadians who say the film is racist and presents only negative stereotypes of Inuit.
Puskas said he made several efforts to contact the festival and speak to organizers, who wouldn’t speak to him.
“I think this really speaks to the values and ethics of the people who organize this festival,” Puskas said. “They say there are multiple sides to the story, but they won’t speak to Inuit.”
Museum of the Moving Image acknowledged Puskas’ petition, posting it to the festival’s website and offering a statement.
But Puskas believes festival organizers were only capitalizing on the film’s controversy as a way to draw more viewers.
The festival referred to of the North as “an innovative and deliberately provocative reinvention of the ethnographic documentary… that some viewers find offensive.”
“The Museum respects and appreciates the feelings and viewpoints of the film’s critics, including the more than 1,000 people who signed a petition asking for the screening to be cancelled,” the museum posted to its website last week.
“Yet we feel that the film has strong artistic merit and that its use of disturbing imagery is part of an artistic strategy designed to raise questions and challenge the viewer’s assumptions.
“…the film does not claim to be a representative portrait of Inuit life.”
To make the film, Gagnon edited together footage he drew from YouTube and social media, claiming in some interviews that the 74-minute collage is made entirely by Inuit, through footage that is accessible to the public.
But Puskas said that Gagnon later admitted that only 34 of the 123 videos that he used in the film were actually of Inuit, filmed in the North.
Some of the imagery draws a comparison between an Inuk woman with the backside of a dog, Puskas said; another clip links traditional Inuit food with an Inuk man vomiting in a toilet.
“It contains scenes that sexualize Inuit women at a time when we are in a crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women, which is dangerous and reckless,” he said.
For those reasons, Puskas said Inuit have to push back against the distribution of the film, as a way of protecting their own communities.
“I didn’t expect the festival to actually cancel the screening; I wanted to raise awareness and let people know that Inuit are not okay with this film,” he said.
“To let people know that this man [Gagnon] has no connection to Inuit and no stake in this community, and to show people why this film is racist.”
Although the petition was initially targeted at this more recent U.S. festival, Puskas hopes it will continue to draw support against any future screenings of of the North.