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Zacharias Kunuk examines shamanism in new animated film

Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman’s Apprentice, an animated film from acclaimed director Zacharias Kunuk, will make its North American debut at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival in September, and Kunuk is hoping it will spark conversations about traditional Inuit spirituality.
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Filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk continues documenting Elders’ stories today. He’s been recording interviews with Iglulik Elders who reflect on oral teachings they received prior to colonization. He plans to expand that effort to other communities in the future. Photo courtesy of Isuma TV ᑕᕐᕆᔭᓕᐅᖅᑎ ᓴᖅᑲᓕᐊᓯ ᑯᓄᒃ ᑎᑎᕋᖅᐸᓪᓕᐊᖏᓐᓇᖅᐳᖅ ᐃᓄᑐᖃᑦ ᐅᓂᒃᑳᖅᑐᐊᖏᓐᓂ ᐅᓪᓗᒥᒧᑦ. ᓂᐱᓕᐅᕆᓯᒪᕗᖅ ᐊᐱᖅᓱᕐᓂᐅᔪᓂ ᐃᒡᓗᓕᖕᒥ ᐃᓄᑐᖃᕐᓂ ᐃᖅᑲᐅᒪᔪᓂ ᐅᖃᐅᓯᒃᑯᑦ ᐃᓕᓐᓂᐊᖅᑎᑦᑎᓂᐅᔪᓂ ᐱᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔭᖏᓐᓂ ᓯᕗᓂᐊᓂ ᐱᖅᑯᓯᕆᙱᑕᓄᑦ ᐱᐅᓯᖃᓕᖅᑎᑕᐅᓂᕐᒥ. ᐸᕐᓇᒃᐳᖅ ᐊᖏᒡᓕᒋᐊᖅᓯᓂᕐᒥ ᑕᐃᔅᓱᒥᖓ ᐊᒃᓱᕈᕈᑕᐅᔪᒥ ᐊᓯᖏᓐᓄᑦ ᓄᓇᓕᐅᔪᓄᑦ ᓯᕗᓂᒃᓴᒥ.

Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman’s Apprentice, an animated film from acclaimed director Zacharias Kunuk, will make its North American debut at the 46th Toronto International Film Festival in September, and Kunuk is hoping it will spark conversations about traditional Inuit spirituality.

“When we talk about shamans and goddesses and taboos, this is the world that this story came from, the land before the Europeans ever came,” Kunuk said. “Christianity, it doesn’t make any sense … in the last 100 years we’ve had Christianity (among Inuit) and we almost forgot how shamanism works … it’s just been bulldozed over by colonialism. I think it’s time to start talking about it. It’s interesting, and it’s good and evil.”

Kunuk said Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman’s Apprentice is based on a story told over generations, one he heard from an Elder in the 1980s. It involves a grandmother and her granddaughter and their efforts to heal a sick hunter, which takes the granddaughter, a young shaman, to the underworld to see Kannaaluk, The One Below.

In the film, Madeline Ivalu gives voice to the grandmother, Lucy Tulugarjuk is cast as the young shaman and Jacky Qrunnut is in the role of the young man.

Kunuk said one of his responsibilities was mentoring the technical staff to ensure the film’s animated imagery was accurate and true to the Inuit experience.

Angakusajaujuq is not the first animated feature involving Kunuk. He worked on Stories of Our Elders several years ago.

He continues documenting Elders’ stories today. He’s been recording interviews with Iglulik Elders who reflect on oral teachings they received prior to colonization. He plans to expand that effort to other communities in the future.

“That’s what I love to do. I love to interview Elders because all their knowledge is in their heads,” he said.

Angakusajaujuq, which won the FIPRESCI Award from the International Federation of Film Critics at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France in July, was made in association with Kingulliit Productions and Taqqut Productions.

Kingulliit is part of artist collective Isuma Canada’s first majority-Inuit-owned media production company.

Iqaluit-based Taqqut Productions, an Inuit-owned film production company located in Iqaluit, “aims to establish itself as an innovative leader of youth and children’s programming” with 11 short films already to its credit. Taqqut is in production on season three of the television series Anaana’s Tent, which airs on APTN.

Neil Christopher served as producer for Angakusajaujuq.

Kunuk, creator of Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, and One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, said he has no plans to stop making films, even though he’s now in his 60s.

“I guess I’ll do it for the rest of my days,” he said. “There’s no retirement in sight in this kind of job.”