Quebec filmmaker Pilon brings Iqaluit film back to Nunavut capital

Film takes a close look at city and its people


Quebec filmmaker Benoît Pilon admitted to being nervous before the April 19 screening of Iqaluit.

The screening marked the first chance for people in Iqaluit to see and react to his full-length film, whose Nunavut première also coincided with National Canadian Film Day 150.

For those in Astro Theatre, the experience was also unique: it’s not every day you can watch a film in the same location where its scenes were shot, in the company of its actors, director and producers— and then offer your feedback.

Iqaluit, shot over 27 days in 2015 in and around the city, with many local actors and extras, tells the story of a Quebec woman, Carmen, who comes to the Nunavut capital after her husband Gilles, a construction boss, has been injured. After he dies, she sets out to learn more about why he was hurt, with the support of Noah, Gilles’ Inuk friend and worker.

That’s the bare bones of Iqaluit‘s plot, largely carried by award-winning Quebec actor François Papineau as Gilles, Marie-Josée Croze, who took home the Best Actress award at Cannes in 2003 for The Barbarian Invasions, as Carmen, and, in the role of Noah, Natar Ungalaaq, star of the acclaimed Atanarjuat and Pilon’s 2008 film, The Necessities of Life, which saw Ungalaaq picking up several acting awards.

Others in Iqaluit include Christine Tootoo as Ani, Paul Nutarariaq as Dany, Sébastien Huberdeau as Victor, Annie Neevee-Buscemi as Teena, Mikidjuk Akavak as Jimmy, Uliipika Irngaut as Kayla, Kaalinnguaq Peter as Alamie, Simon Nattaq as Pauloosie, Peter‐Henry Arnatsiaq as Putulik, Ha Liu-Kong as Dr. Nguyen, Matt Holland as Sergant McDuff, and Ellen David as the head nurse.

But the real star of this film is its namesake and location: Iqaluit.

Stunning shots of the city are by far the most compelling part of this film.

The opening sequence of Iqaluit features views of striking natural beauty in the cityscape as well as much grittiness, including a long look at the dump— a sight that appeared to have puzzled moviegoer Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak.

In a question-and-answer session after the screening, Angnakak asked Pilon why he had wanted the camera to linger on the dump for so long.

This was intended to show the contrast between things which are beautiful as well as those that aren’t, Pilon said—and to emphasize that you can’t hide anything in treeless Iqaluit.

“Everything comes out because you can’t hide it,” Pilon said, referring to what Carmen learns after her husband’s death.

The visuals of Iqaluit brings you right into the heart of Iqaluit, during those summer nights when the action of the film takes place.

Thanks to the camerawork, which takes in every detail, like a slow gaze, Iqaluit peers inside houses, bars, cabins, and shows the land as serene, stupendous or simply mucky.

Pilon said he wanted to do a film that would look at the North in the way he did the South in his film, Ce Qu’il Faut Pour Vivre (The Necessities of Life), which tells the story of an Inuk hunter in a Quebec tuberculosis sanatorium in the 1950s.

Iqaluit, Pilon said, is intended to take the other view, showing the North and Inuit as seen from someone from the South coming north.

But, with that ambitious scope and a bigger plot to Iqaluit, there’s less development of individual characters, more focus on keeping the action moving ahead and an effort to message issues such as the importance of seals to Inuit, the role of traditional knowledge in Inuit culture, the impact of residential school trauma and Iqaluit’s social challenges.

Reception in Iqaluit to the film—which, for now, is not yet available as a DVD or for download, was largely positive, with one member of the audience suggesting Pilon tackle a new film, “Iqaluit 2.”

“An authentic look at the city” and a “must-see” is how another described Iqaluit in social media comments.

The film, $4.5 million budget for the film, co-produced by Nunavut’s Piksuk Media Inc., premiered in 2016, and, since then, has been shown in many national and international festivals.

For those who missed seeing Iqaluit, another showing is planned April 30 at 4:30 p.m. in the Astro Theatre. With dialogue in English, French or Inuktitut, subtitles are provided in English.

Here’s a French-language trailer which offers a brief look at the film.

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