Movie review: Maïna features cultural conflict and resolution
Inuit-Innu adventure tale showing at Iqaluit’s Astro Theatre April 4 to April 10
The Quebec newspaper ads for the movie Maïna feature a romantic photograph of a couple dressed in traditional Inuit clothing with a caption that translates to “Beneath the ice… fire.”
While this description is as cheesy as it gets, the movie is anything but. Maïna is not just a love story. It is a critically acclaimed adventure tale of cultural conflict set 600 years ago in Nunavik, before European contact.
This movie involves traditional aboriginal life, coming of age, spirituality, healing and love presented with breathtaking cinematography, a superb soundtrack and a few laughs thrown in for good measure.
Maïna is the rebellious adolescent daughter of the chief of an Innu clan. Before her friend Matsii dies, Maïna promises to take care of her young son Nipki. Some Inuit from the Land of Ice travel south to the Innu territory and encounter Maïna’s clan.
After a bloody confrontation initiated by the Innu, the Inuit flee towards home taking Nipki captive. Maïna sets out on a dangerous journey to find Nipki but is also held prisoner and forced to accompany Nipki and their captors to the Land of Ice.
Along the way, Maïna and Natak get to know each other and declare their love after arriving in the Land of Ice. Although cultural differences tear them apart, the two reunite at the conclusion of the movie.
Graham Greene and Tantoo Cardinal are moving as Maina’s parents, the Chief Mishtenapeu, and the mystical medicine woman Tekahera.
Ipellie Ootoova, a native of Pond Inlet who graduated from Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit and now attends the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program in Ottawa, plays Natak.
His straightforward, earnest performance breathes life into the strong, but gentle Inuk character Natak. Roseanne Supernault, a Métis of Alberta Woodland Cree descent, portrays the plucky Maïna with determination, humour and grace.
Notable Inuit actors include Lucy Tulugarjuk, Eric Schweig, Natar Ungalaaq and Pakak Innuksuk. Young Innu actor Uapeshkuss Thernish plays Nipki with just enough cuteness and mischievousness to steal scenes.
Maïna is based on a well-researched novel by the French-Canadian novelist, Dominique Demers. Great care was taken to ensure that the look and feel of the movie were authentic.
For example, the 25-foot umiak was reproduced with historical accuracy. Filming took place mainly near Kuujjuaq with the remainder in Quebec City, and depended on the cooperation of an Inuit, Innu and Québécois crew.
The often dramatic landscapes dotted with wildlife were powerfully captured with sweeping aerial photography in the style of a nature documentary. The movie’s haunting soundtrack, incorporating flute, harp and acoustic instruments was punctuated by ethereal vocals reflecting the spiritual dimensions of aboriginal life.
The movie received an impressive six Canadian Screen Award nominations for 2014, including Best Picture, Best Art Direction/Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Original Score and Best Make-Up.
At the 2013 American Indian Film Festival, Maïna was named Best Picture, with Rosanne Supernault winning Best Actress.
There are three language versions: an Innu/Inuktitut version with English narration and subtitles; an Innu/Inuktitut version with French narration and subtitles, and a completely French dubbed version.
A special screening was held March 6 in Kuujjuaq. Maïna was released in Quebec theatres on March 21 and will be shown later in the year in other parts of Canada. A DVD could be released as early as the summer of 2014.
In a CBC Radio interview on the Labrador Morning Show in November 2013, director and executive producer Michel Poulette said he hoped the younger generation of Inuit and Innu will be inspired by this movie and its characters.
Joyce MacPhee is a writer and editor living in Ottawa.