Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 29, No.6

November 18, 2004


Inuit teens caught between their elders and Eminem

Patrick Lavery

Photo of Daniel Cross

Filmmaker Daniel Cross on location with Inuit student (right) in Inukjuak, northern Quebec.

When film professor and documentary maker Daniel Cross and his partner Mila Aung-Thwin were sent to northern Quebec by the National Film Board, they didn’t think a movie would come of it.

Cross and Aung-Thwin gave eight Inuk students in the small town of Inukjuak four video cameras to document their last year of high school. The result was Inuuvunga: I am Inuk, I am Alive.

“We didn’t really go there to shoot a movie,” Cross said. “We wanted to get them to start shooting themselves.”

Inukjuak is an isolated community along the eastern coast of Quebec. The only way to travel to it is by plane. Cross and Aung-Thwin made several trips to the village over the winter of 2002-2003.

“We pitched it to both the French and English secondary five classes,” Cross said. “Eight were able to take part. They were excused from classes.”

With the team assembled, Cross and Aung-Thwin took over the pottery classroom to teach the students the basics in filmmaking.

“We had five girls and three boys, all in the pottery room,” he said.

The eight students were Rita-Lucy, Dora, Sarah, Laura, Linus, Willia, Bobby, and Caroline.

In the film, the audience sees Cross showing the students how to use the cameras and what to focus on in their documentary.

“These students are in a weird place,” he said. “They are somewhere between their elders and Eminem.”

Cross has successfully worked with inexperienced subjects before, notably in S.P.I.T., which was about squeegee kids. He wanted to challenge the students to reach out and break down some of the walls that tradition and culture had set in place.

“We wanted them to speak to their elders, ask them questions,” he said. “It’s not in their nature to question the authority of the elders.”

The students were also given the chance to look into other issues that affect them, like suicide and drugs. After a brief time instructing the students on how to use the cameras and tell a story with them, Cross and Aung-Thwin left. The students were allowed to tell their own story without any interference.

“When you hear about an event in the north, you see the journalist telling the story. We didn’t want that.”

What the students shot was an engaging and intimate look into life in the far north. A classroom floor is used for the butchering of a freshly killed seal. Some of the students try to interview their elders, with varying results.

There is a strong focus on community and family. Rita-Lucy introduces the audience to her mother, a dynamic woman in the community who teaches at the school and cooks for her large family.

Once the school year was finished, Cross sent his editor, Brett Gaylor, to show the students how to edit their raw footage together.

“He spent the summer in Inukjuak, helping the students put everything into a loose order. He helped them put some music to it, to make it tell their story. We wanted the film to have some soul.”

The filmmakers wanted to create something that they could share with their community.

You can catch the film at the NFB CineRoboteque on St. Denis St.