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love this film!

March 13, 2012

Nuliajuk: Mother of the Sea Beasts, directed by John Houston, Triad Films, drumsong production 2001 50 minutes

I love this film. Through different storytellers, it tells the story of Nuliajuk/Sedna, a woman who became the god from whom come the sea mammals on which human life depends. Her story, told in different ways across the Arctic, went underground (underwater) as Christian missionaries told Inuit that those stories and ways were wrong.

Here She returns, through the words of Elders recalling experiences and tales from their own childhoods, of hunter and shaman with their own up-close experiences of Sedna, of Anglican ministers, through archival footage of interactions with whalers and missionaries, story versions gathered by Inuit-Danish anthropologist, Knud Rasmussen, and through the words of the filmmaker, a White art dealer whose happiest childhood memories are of the years he spent with Inuit in the Arctic, and his hunger to bring those 2 parts of himself to a place of belonging.

To my eyes and ears, respect runs through this film. The filmmaker, following his own questions, collaborated with Inuit storytellers from Canada and Greenland, a Greenlandic Inuit theatre troupe and non-Inuit (Danish) ethnographer and (Greenlander) theatre/dance director, to bring forward a retelling which has meaning for all. The final scene, of performers becoming Sedna’s spirit helpers and interacting with the audience – much laughter, one child’s frightened tears, one Elder’s tears from another source – makes me cry, too.

I’ve just seen 2 drumsong productions films – this one and “Kiviuk” – and it is the same qualities which move me in each: the excellent theatrical performances and the way Houston’s sincere questioning provides a site for mutual exploration of these stories and their relevance and meaning for each witness and each storyteller/actor. The connection between the stories and their people seems to be enlivened as the stories are inquired into, enacted and experienced. Their different stories gather into this one story as it emerges from the shadows, altered.

In Houston’s words, “In our own ways, we are all reimagining the ancient traditions in order to help us live today.”

I see this kind of process as an important part of improving the health and wellness of Inuit (and all peoples struggling with contemporary realities) today. There is much to come to terms with, much to reimagine and be enlivened by. Collaborative, arts-based inquiry is a good way to do that. Processes which can be recorded and transmitted across the vast distances of Inuit land are essential, moving fast enough, far enough, and in ways which can be revisited. This is the kind of work I want to be doing.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2012 1:36 pm

    Seems interesting! Is there any trailer to watch on the web?

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