Atanarjuat gets standing ovation at Cannes



IQALUIT — Success is sweet, especially when it includes an unobstructed view of boats sailing the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, as seen from the fifth-story balcony of the Grand Hotel in Cannes, France during the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

This year’s festival darlings are the members of Igloolik Isuma Productions for their ground-breaking feature film Atanarjuat.

“Zacharias and myself are mixing our time between talking to a steady stream of journalists and festival events,” cinematographer Norman Cohn said while basking in the warm glow of adulation. “We probably do eight to 10 interviews a day.”

Atanarjuat earned a standing ovation last Sunday after the three-hour film was screened a second time that day for an audience of about 600 festival insiders, and cinemaphiles.

Speaking through Nunatsiaq News interpreter-translator Jeannie Katsak last Tuesday afternoon, director Zacharias Kunuk said the attention that his film is receiving is astounding, considering that it’s one of only 46 films selected out of 1,798 eligible entries from 76 countries.

But Kunuk’s fellow visionary Cohn says he and Kunuk are taking the intense attention with a big pinch of salt, a skill they had to hone while struggling for more than three years to get their work taken seriously by the Canadian film industry.

“We’re pretty tough nuts, we’re not softies in soft skins. We’re in a revolutionary activity and we know you get beat up along the way even if you’re successful,” Cohn said.

“But it’s a lot easier when people are happier to hear from us, than when they’re going out of their way to try and marginalize whatever it is that we have to say,” he continued. “There’s a lot of opportunism in the world and in this industry.

“I don’t take it any more seriously that they love us than I did when I thought they were ignoring us.”

Kunuk is in the running against first-time filmmakers such as the popular American actor, Jennifer Jason Leigh, for the Camera d’Or, which will be awarded on Sunday. The Camera d’Or is awarded to the most promising director whose film is featured in the Un Certain Regard category.

Cohn says the prize isn’t only given for the best directorial debut, but also to a director who members of the adjudication committee believe will become a force within the film industry.

But even if Kunuk loses, Cohn says the Isuma team will leave Cannes confident they’re among the best in the world of those who have mastered the digital film medium.

“There’s a lot of lousy films here,” Cohn explained.

“Zach and I were on a panel with the guru of digital filmmaking, Peter Broderick… I think there are four or five higher profile films that were shot digitally, including the film directed by Jennifer Jason Leigh.”

“Most people here who are talking about digital film now are just talking about it for the first time, because they’re discovering digital video for the first time,” Cohn reflected. “[T]here are a lot of people here discovering Zach and me for the first time, but neither of us nor digital fell out of the sky in the year 2001.

“We’re ahead of the curve — in terms of cinema.”

Last year, Dancer in the Dark by Danish film-maker Lars von Trier was the first digital film to win the highly-coveted Palme d’Or award.

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