'The way we used to live.'
Before Tomorrow: Why must we die?
Moments of stunning beauty and deep despair mark the film, Before Tomorrow, the most recent Inuktitut-language feature film from Igloolik Isuma Productions.
Grim and beautiful, Before Tomorrow, has already collected numerous awards from film festivals around the world.
Before Tomorrow, a co-production of Igloolik Isuma Productions and Kunuk Cohn Productions, with the members of Arnait video collective, to be released March 27 in theatres, was recently screened at an invitation-only showing in Iqaluit's Astro Theatre.
Shot in the same hyper-realistic style similar to Isuma productions, Before Tomorrow catches the golden yellow light from inside of a skin tent and shows the dreamy, green shadow of an umiaq moving on top of the water in a memorable underwater sequence.
But sometimes the revealing camera work in Before Tomorrow is almost too much to bear.
The film tells the story of Ningiuq and her grandson Maniq in the early 1800s. The two head out to an island with an ailing older woman Kuutujuk to prepare fish for the winter. Kuutujuk dies – but much worse, smallpox kills the members of the summer camp, and their tent is destroyed, obliging Ningiuq and Maniq to seek refuge in a cave for the winter.
The camera lovingly shows the summer camp in scenes shot near Puvirnituq. But the camera also lingers on snow blowing over the frozen sea ice and the mood of damp despair in the cave after a wolf mauls Ningiuq.
The film's final scene, where Ningiuq prepares to kill her grandson and herself in the cave, seems to peer into a huge dark hole.
Before Tomorrow excels in its adherence to bringing Inuit language and culture to the screen, with its Inuktitut dialogue and traditional fur garments, kayaks, umiaq and tools, most of which were made specially for the film.
For Qalingo Tookalak of Puvirnituq, acting in this film this was a change from the 1992 film, The Shadow of the Wolf: Agaguk, where props were made by non-Inuit, according to their ideas of Inuit life.
The acting in Before Tomorrow is strong. Tumasie Sivuarapik shows he's a great actor as well as a top dog team racer and Paul-Dylan Ivalu shines as the angelic Maniq.
Before Tomorrow catches the hard times that Inuit over 50 remember too well.
But some in the audience at the recent Iqaluit screening felt Before Tomorrow doesn't send a message to "embrace life."
The music of Quebec folksingers Kate and Anna McGarrigle, which includes the song, "Why must we die," contributes to the bleakness of Before Tomorrow.
"We are meat, we are spirit/We have blood and we have grace/We have a will and we have muscle/A soul and a face/Why must we die/We are human, we are angel/We have feet and wish for wings… We are saints, we are kings/Why must we die/Why must we die," goes the song's lyrics.
Co-director Marie-Hélène Cousineau said the style and message of the McGarrigles' music was " a good match" with the film.
"We all die. There's nothing depressing there," Cousineau said in an interview last week. "It's tragic, but not depressing. The music makes the story universal."
Before Tomorrow talks about a unique people, Inuit, who lived in a unique place and time, she said.
"But it's a universal story because it's about a woman who has to find the necessary resources to do difficult things. That is the human condition. This music reminds us of this. That's why the film touches people who have never heard of the North or Inuit."
Cousineau defends the story's grim outcome, saying her Inuit collaborators said "this is way we used to live."
"If you want a message of hope, look at the film and see Madeline Ivalu who is the co-director and the lead actor in the film," Cousineau said. "There are lots of people who died like this, perhaps half of the first inhabitants of North America, and these people are now making films and telling this story and paying homage to those people who have disappeared, the people about whom we never speak about in history books."
Before Tomorrow was adapted from the novel For morgendagen by Danish writer Jørn Riel and shot near Puvirnituq, with 25 actors and five dogs on-camera.
Leading the cast are Madeline Ivalu and her grandson Paul-Dylan Ivalu, joined by Mary Qulitalik, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq and Sivuarapik.
Audiences in the smaller communities of Nunavut and Nunavik may have a chance to see Before Tomorrow, if funding is found to organize a tour.
Cousineau and Ivalu are now in Mexico where they plan to show Before Tomorrow, with Spanish subtitles, to a group of women in Oaxaca who are interested in starting a film cooperative similar to Arnait Video Productions.