Opponents of controversial Inuit film confront screening organizer in Montreal

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The weather was thawing, so it seemed like a good night for a dialogue. But film director Dominic Gagnon never arrived as expected to a scheduled public discussion of his controversial documentary of the North.

Earlier on March 9, Montreal independent film society, Ciné-Club La Banque, had cancelled its scheduled free screening of the “mash-up version” of Gagnon’s film, which consists of self-shot clips the director found uploaded on YouTube and pornographic websites that frequently put Inuit people in an embarrassing light.

In response to demands by parties demanding the removal from the film of their videos and songs, Gagnon had taken some of the footage out at the last minute. For a variety of reasons Ciné-Club did not wish to screen that version, however. Instead, they invited Gagnon, Iqaluit Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (a prominent critic of the film, in Montreal working on a new film) and Montreal Inuk researcher, radio host and filmmaker Stephen Agluvak Puskas to discuss the issue in a public setting.

Citing threats to his safety, Gagnon declined the invitation and the event was cancelled.

That didn’t keep people from coming, however – those who wanted to see the film, and didn’t know it was cancelled, and a group of its detractors. Outside the theatre they encountered event organizer Emmanuel Sévigny, leading to an impromptu discussion. Zoé Lavocat, originally from France, had come to see the film and expressed surprise on learning that it contained footage of and from people who had not consented for their videos to be in it. She wondered if the film was legal.

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“No one ever asked the Inuit, never consulted with the Inuit to make it,” said Montreal Inuk filmmaker Isabella Weetaluktuk. “Festivals are showing it without ever trying to ask Inuit, ‘Is this okay?’ It’s not okay to make a film about Inuit or any other culture without ever talking to those people.”

Sévigny argued the film was by an artist with a body of earlier work that was critically acclaimed, and he said he believed artists were able to be sensitive to cultures other than their own.

Puskas pointed out that all critics so far have taken the film at face value as a portrait “of the North.” When he combed carefully through the credits, Puskas discovered that nearly a third of the film – which Gagnon had described as being about Inuit self-representation – came from the South.

“It’s a good idea to have artists who have a point-of-view from outside a culture, that’s not a problem,” he said.

Arnaquq-Baril said she agreed with this – but in this case, her problem was that Gagnon had never met the people he was portraying in such a controversial manner.

“Even the concept of making a film without having ever met the people is interesting,” said Arnaquq-Baril. “But the thing is, he hasn’t done it honestly. He’s using clips of non-Inuit and portraying them as Inuit. He’s lying with his editing. He put footage in of non-Inuit in Texas and Florida making alcohol and fighting, and edited them in a way where it appears Inuit are violent drunks. It’s completely irresponsible to a people who are marginalized in this country.”

At the end of the discussion, Sévigny said he would no longer screen the film. Arnaquq-Baril, Puskas and Weetaluktuk shook hands with Sévigny before they parted ways.

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