Arviat’s performing arts and media community has been benefiting from a bit of national exposure.
The spotlight cast a few rays of bright light in Arviat’s direction recently when a documentary made in the community, called Dancing Towards the Light, earned filmmakers Kitra Cahana and Ed Ou a Canadian Screen Award for Best Photography in a News or Information Program, Series or Segment.
The documentary focused on the youth of Arviat turning to the healing power of dance as a means to cope with the community’s alarming number of suicides, which has been a long-standing problem in the Eastern Arctic.
In 2004 the five-year average rate of suicide was 121 per 100,000 people, which was nearly 11 times the national rate, according to Statistics compiled from Nunavut’s chief coroner.
Arviat’s annual dance competitions have become legendary (the Sila Rainbow Dance Competition and the Phillip Kigusiutnak Memorial Square Dance Showdown), and are seen as a way to help folks affected by suicide to heal.
The Arviat Film Society also enjoyed time in the spotlight when it was mentioned recently in a Time kids booklet, Wi-Fi Around the World, while a story on the John Arnalukjuak Drama Club, Bright Lights and Blue Steps, written by Keith J. Collier, was published in the Newfoundland Quarterly publication.
John Arnalukjuak Drama Club and Arviat Film Society member and instructor Gord Billard said it has been a benefit to local organizations to see the situation in Arviat highlighted.
“People are intrigued by the North and any opportunity to educate them that we’re not living in iglus, we have painfully slow Internet at a high cost, and we pay unbelievable prices for a roast at the store – all of this getting out there can only help make things better for us as more people become outraged or concerned over what they learn,” he said.
Billard said any attention is good, but attention that highlights the issues people in the North have to deal with can serve to expedite positive change.
He said the young members of the Arviat Film Society feel a strong sense of pride in seeing the society mentioned in prominent publications.
“As soon as the Time book was made known to us and Ivano Aggark brought a couple of the booklets that Jamie Bell sent him to a meeting,” he said. “I showed them to all my students and they were all impressed and wanted to have a good look at them. People think it’s pretty darn cool.”