A lifetime of bringing forth Inuit culture onto the silver screen was recognized on March 9, when Nunavut commissioner Eva Aariak awarded Iglulik filmmaker Dr. Zacharias Kunuk with the 2022 Commissioners Art Award. The award also came with a cash prize of $10,000.
Most well-known for directing the Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first feature film spoken entirely in Inuktitut, Kunuk remained active on the Nunavut film scene, following up his first movie with The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, a second feature released in 2006.
“It’s not just me, I have a whole team working with me,” said Kunuk, highlighting his crew, “I’m just there, I’m the director and just the guy who comes out with these ideas.”
Kunuk got his filmmaking career started with the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation interviewing Elders, when he encountered a knowledge gap facing him in the process.
“When we go to the editing table there’s no footage of what they’re talking about, that drove me to recreate the past and I love doing that,” he said. “We try to be authentic, we try to use old (Inuktitut) words.”
After all these years, Zacharias is still most well-known for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, which according to him was to celebrate the creation of Nunavut.
“Nunavut was going to be carved out of the map and we wanted to come out with a film, which is why we did The Fast Runner. From there we never stopped,” he said.
Kunuk’s current project is titled Wrong Husband.
“They used to have arranged marriages, children would be taught this is your future husband or wife. The story I’m doing is, this girl who’s been promised to this young man, who was out of the camp and married another.”
“I’m also using spirits in this film, the fog lady, the troll, the caribou spirit and wolf spirit. Playing with good spirits and evil spirits, it’s a part of filmmaking.”
When passing on a message for younger filmmakers, Kunuk said to fight for your budgets because everyone else is doing the same thing.
“It’s a long process being a filmmaker, you have to build your name. In the film financing world that’s how it is,” said Kunuk.
“(The) One slice of the pie you get, the other guy is not getting. We have to fight for the budgets and do the process. To create, to make reality, that’s the fun part.”
The preservation of Inuit culture for future generations is what keeps Zacharias going.
“We’re just doing our job trying to preserve our culture because a hundred years from now they’ll study these films.”