Igloolik film a ‘thinking-woman’s movie’
‘Tautuktavuk (What We See)’ recipient of Amplify Voices, Best First Film Award at Toronto International Film Festival
This review was updated on Sept. 20 at 2:51 p.m. ET.
Tautuktavuk (What We See), the latest release from Inuit-owned media collective Isuma, was among the winning entries at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, it was announced on the closing day Sept. 17.
The film, co-directed by Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk, won the Amplify Voices, Best First Film Award.
Someone described Tautuktavut as “a thinking woman’s movie,” and the description is accurate.
It centres on two sisters, one living in Igloolik and one in Montreal, using Zoom technology and later a face-to-face visit to discuss the hurts they have experienced and how to heal from them, if indeed healing is possible.
Most of us with any knowledge of the North are aware of much of its social history: the dominating white culture, the horrors of the residential schools, the sexually abusive priests in some communities, the poverty, alcoholism, and suicides, the increased violence, especially domestic violence, the undermining of the Inuit language and culture, the continuing housing crisis, and the assorted health and economic problems that came with COVID-19.
So, some of the audience expected a documentary, an action film, an emotional piece of historical fiction or perhaps a sermon on encouraging Inuit to return to their old ways. The movie touched on most of these topics and a few more, but you could not say the movie was “about” any one of them.
What makes Tautuktavuk outstanding is the way elements of all these issues are skilfully woven together to raise the main questions of the film — can we now heal from our past? How do we go about it? — without quite answering either of them.
It is clear the filmmakers want more public thought and discussion on these complex issues.
The film, co-directed, written and starred in by Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk, begins during COVID-19 lockdown in 2020.
Tulugarjuk’s character, Uyaraq, is living in Montreal, where she had gone for medical care after a beating. Saqpinak, portrayed by Kunnuk, has stayed in their hometown of Igloolik.
Unable to meet because of COVID-19 travel bans, the women communicate frequently on imperfect Zoom meetings that freeze now and then.
Gradually, they begin to talk about their pasts.
This is not a movie of flashbacks. There is one major one, but other abuses are discussed rather than shown. The reminders that this is a “now” picture are subtle and pervasive: the sisters both go shopping in tiny grocery stores, but one is a frame Co-op store in Igloolik and the other a brick dépanneur in Montreal.
Later in the film, the pair gets together in Igloolik, where video cameras appear in scene after scene.
The scope of past and ongoing abuse is gradually revealed in conversation during the movie. Abuse is something Inuit have traditionally not discussed openly, but the younger sister has been working with a therapist in Montreal and definitely feels she has been helped.
Other methods of dealing with the pain are mentioned or shown: the Inuit love of family, and especially of babies, keeps recurring; some people find solace in going back to pre-Christian ceremonies, while younger people appreciate the music of Beatrice Deer.
What progress has been made fits modern therapeutic norms of taking things one at a time — the women no longer drink, but are not yet ready to give up marijuana.
Viewers familiar with the North might constantly recognize familiar details. Those from the south might recognize similarities in the “we don’t talk about it” attitudes of both northerners and southerners from the 1950s and 1960s.
The pacing and connection of ideas is excellent: almost nothing in this movie was totally strange to me, but I had never made all the connections that Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk showed us, and so they kept my attention throughout.
A final proof that this is a thinking woman’s movie: the victims of the violence are mostly women but we see, too, that abused women can become abusers themselves, impossible for their partners to continue to live with. But there is hope.
This film will be shown across Nunavut, as well as in some southern communities.
Monica Connolly is the former owner of Nunatsiaq News. She owned the paper from 1976 to 1985, leading the ownership company Frobisher Press Ltd.
Correction: This story has been updated to correctly reference which actor plays which character in the movie.