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Akulukjuk devoted to making Inuktitut media

Summer weeks spent out on the land at Sannirut, outside Pangnirtung, taking part in the Inuusivut (Our Way of Life) training project set the stage for Roselynn Akulukjuk's award-winning film work and a career in the industry.

Pangnirtung filmmaker Roselynn Akulukjuk is hard at work planning the shots that would make up her short film The Owl and The Lemming with mentor Robert Mills, a well-known Canadian puppeteer.
photo courtesy Roselynn Akulukjuk

"Every summer we had this Inuusivut workshop. It started out as a photography workshop. A couple of years later, it went from photography to filming," said Akulukjuk.

At Sannirut, the youth wrote their scripts and edited their own short films.

For example, Akulukjuk and Rita Claire Mike-Murphy (the singer Riit) made a short film together in the summer of 2009 titled I'm All That, exploring the issue of jealousy and friendship. Akulukjuk definitely had the film bug.

"Just being able to tell stories through film was really fascinating for me. I loved the idea of telling my story, or any kind of story, through film," said Akulukjuk about her chosen medium.

Qajaaq Ellsworth and Stacey Aglok MacDonald led those workshops, and Ellsworth says he's happy to see Akulukjuk in a field where she has a natural skill.

"When Roselynn was first getting into photography, film and media production, she did so without hesitation, from a perspective of exploration, and overcame any barriers in front of her to turn her interests and skills into something she can share with others," he said.

"Learning by doing and the process of helping others – whether it be in language and culture, or in helping people to understand more about our history and stories – is something Roselynn seeks to foster and grow."

But, after high school, the fledgling filmmaker thought she might want to be a teacher. She signed up for the Nunavut Teacher Education Program. After the foundation year and half of the first year she realized she was on the wrong path.

Two years later, she was off to the Toronto Film School, pursuing her passion. After a year of study and a year back in Pangnirtung, she landed a job with Taqqut Productions, based in Iqaluit.

During this time with Taqqut, Akulukjuk conceived The Owl and the Lemming, based on an Inuit legend.

"I took that story, but made it my own. I was accepted for a short-film fund," she said, adding she decided on puppets to play the characters.

The three-minute film took six to seven months to create.

"It was great to see her directing puppets – it was so fun for me as the producer to see her step up in a medium she was not familiar with, but quickly getting her footing and making really good directorial decisions and guiding a troupe of puppeteers to get the story she wanted for Nunavut children," said Neil Christopher, managing partner of Taqqut and Inhabit Media.

Roselynn Akulukjuk accepts the award for Best Animation at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco, California for her three-minute puppet short The Owl and the Lemming in 2016.
photo courtesy Roselynn Akulukjuk

In 2016, The Owl and the Lemming won Best Animation at the American Indian Film Festival – the one film festival Akulukjuk had her eye on. It also received nominations for Achievement in Animation Filmmaking at the Los Angeles Skins Film Festival in 2016, Best Animated Film at the West Chester Film Festival in 2017 and Best Children and Youth Production at Yorkton Film Festival in 2017, and an honourable mention in animation at the Short.Sweet.Film Fest in 2017.

Inhabit Media turned the film into a children's book, and it's proving as popular as the short film, which continues to tour festivals.

Akulukjuk is now at Taqqut's Toronto office working on a series called Ukaliq and Kalla.

"(She) is in charge, working out of the Toronto office, making sure that editing of the Inuktitut version is as it should be," said Christopher.

He adds Akulukjuk is uniquely committed to the quality of Inuktitut television and film.

"She's an incredibly committed person," he said. "Doing what she does on her own in a place where her family doesn't live … She's a pretty special person."

But family is precisely one of the reasons Akulukjuk is so committed.

"With anything I do in Inuktitut I just want everything to be out there, available. My little sister, she's three. She watches so much TV … She speaks more English than Inuktitut. That makes me want to make more films in Inuktitut for her to watch," said Akulukjuk.

"I want Nunavummiut to know they can do this. Whenever they get an opportunity, if there's filming going on, just watching it or being a production assistant … That's really helpful and a really good learning experience. It would be really nice to see more Inuit in film. I'd definitely be up for helping out anyone who is interested."

Akulukjuk also encourages Inuit to write books.

Christopher says it been wonderful working with Akulukjuk.

"I look forward to our company growing with her in a leadership role," he said.