Qanurli uses laughter to promote the Inuit language
“I think it’s pretty cool that our show was a direct result in them wanting to pick up Inuktitut again”
Inside the almost 50-year-old Inuit Broadcasting Corporation building in Iqaluit, the crew of the APTN show Qanurli — Keenan “Nooks” Lindell, Joshua Qaumariaq, Angie Pajek and Stacey Aglok-MacDonald — are getting ready to film an episode.
Crowded into a small office with various objects adorning the wood-panelled walls: a cracker, wigs, a photo of Justin Bieber wearing a parka and surrounded by gas cans, a sign that says “don’t eat yellow snow,” and a music schedule (including “whatever Wednesdays and funky Fridays), the crew discusses their plan.
As with most northern film projects, they work together as producers, prop and set designers, writers, editors and camera and sound operators.
Qanurli, an Inuktitut show with English subtitles, starts its second season this coming Jan. 11.
The show, aimed at youth, tells about two friends, “Inuk Qablunaaq” and “Nipangi Huittuq,” played by cast members Thomas Anguti Johnston and Vinnie Karetak who broadcast their fictional show from a wall tent.
Aglok-MacDonald holds a fishing line attached to the “tent”, set up inside the IBC studio, to wave it back and forth, creating the effect of wind on the tundra.
Originally, Qanurli was supposed to consist of youth profiles only, but after getting feedback from youth in communities over a conference call, the group decided to include comedy skits.
“They wanted something funny and entertaining — not just talking heads,” Aglok-MacDonald said.
“A lot of it is Inuit humour, sometimes you’d only get it if you grew up in Nunavut or if you grew up in an Inuk family,” Keenan (Nooks) Lindell added.
Every episode still has a positive theme such as “role models” or “healthy eating.”
In one episode, Inuk Qablunaaq gets sick from eating too many chips and too much pop, and Nipangi tries to teach him otherwise.
Inuk Qablunaaq starts off as an egotistical and stubborn filmmaker and his best friend Nipangi, which means “never shuts up,” keeps teaching him lessons throughout the first season to “wisen him up,” Lindell said.
In another episode, Inuk Qablunaaq enters a “Drum Dance Revolution Nunavut Anthem Contest” in the hope of winning enough money to help him stay on the land.
Inuk also misses playing hockey and Inuit games so he combines them to make one super sport.
Though cast member Thomas Anguti Johnston writes the 13 scripts for each season, the entire crew often comes up with ideas together.
That includes commercials of made-up products, such as tuktu or caribou milk, spray on “hunter’s tan,” candied fish eyes, Simiuni’s Sivalaaqs, canned “ready to eat” seal meat and fermented walrus perfume.
Because Johnston grew up in Pond Inlet and Igloolik, and Karetak in Arviat, their Inuktitut dialects are different, and when the show first started they had trouble understanding each other.
“The slapstick humour type is what had to come forward, the actual communication written jokes were kind of hit and miss. He could say something hilarious and I’d be straight-faced not because I thought it was not funny but because I didn’t understand what he was saying,” Karetak said.
Johnston also has family in Nunavik, where a lot of people watch the show.
Because of that “he has his own dialect” Lindell joked.
However, for a good part of the show, the crew tries to use dialects from all communities.
Aglok-MacDonald said the show makes learning and practicing Inuktitut cool.
Karetak agrees, “I think it’s pretty cool that our show was a direct result in them [the kids] wanting to pick up Inuktitut again.”
“I believe there is a craving. There’s Inuktitut programming but not everybody wants to watch the news just to hear Inuktitut. Through this kind of work that we’re doing, it brings another dimension to Inuktitut and Inuit on television,” Johnston said.
The first season was an experiment and the second season has pushed the experiment to further extremes, he said.
“We’re telling jokes, we’re laughing but we’re also speaking Inuktitut, doing stuff that hasn’t really been done to a large degree in Nunavut and among Inuit.”
The best part of the show, besides being aired in Inuktitut, is introducing exceptional youth to the public eye, he added.
“The main message we want to get out to young Inuit is that there’s always going to be things you’re going to overcome, sometimes you’re going to have to overcome it through comedy and a lot of the time it’s hard work and we’ll get you through the tough times,” Johnston said.
And it doesn’t have to be a big accomplishment to deserve recognition, Lindell said.
“It doesn’t need to be anything outrageous or spectacular, any little accomplishment is a good accomplishment as long as you keep trying.”
Lindell, Aglok-MacDonald and Qaumariaq, who are all in their 20s, attended the Imagine Native film festival in Toronto last month.
“It made me realize how lucky we are that we have a show… I think we’ve done a very good job with it,” Lindell said.
That’s a huge responsibility and a huge honour, Aglok-MacDonald said.
For season two, which starts to air this January on APTN, audiences can expect a “superhero coming in sometime,” Johnston said.