Shamans, spirits and survival: Zacharias Kunuk wraps filming latest feature
Igloolik filmmaker explores Inuit mythology in ‘Wrong Husband’
Updated on Friday, Oct. 20, 2023 at 2:30 p.m.
From his beginnings with the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation to his groundbreaking work as a director, Zacharias Kunuk has helped push Inuit stories forward in the film industry.
Inspiration for those stories, however, comes to Kunuk from the very distant past.
“This culture fascinates me. I laid down to sleep in the igloo, counting the blocks, thinking, who figured this out?” Kunuk said, sitting at a long table at the Kingulliit Productions studio in Igloolik, last month.
A long bookcase stretches the length of the wall across from him, the shelves adorned with film props, industry awards and a collection of old video cameras from when Kunuk first began to learn his craft.
“Whoever figured out how to hitch dogs and go right and left? Whoever figured out the kayak? Must have been a genius person,” he laughed.
Nunatsiaq News caught up with Kunuk just a few weeks after the 65-year-old director and his team wrapped filming on their latest feature, Wrong Husband.
The filming took place over the summer out on the tundra of Igloolik Island, roughly an hour’s drive outside of the community.
Set hundreds of years in the past, the film draws on old Inuit legends to tell the story of an arranged marriage “that went a little bit wrong,” Kunuk said.
It features shamans, trolls, caribou and wolf spirits, broken deals and battles between good and evil.
Wrong Husband is also set in the same time period as Kunuk’s celebrated feature Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first feature-length film entirely in Inuktitut and the winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s coveted Caméra d’Or (Golden Camera) award for best first feature film by a director, in 2001.
The films explore an era of Inuit survival and innovation, long before settler colonialism.
“It just fascinates me. When you look at the land, there’s nothing. There’s no trees, it’s just bare. But when you know the land, there are animals living here, you just don’t see it. You have to go to the right place to see it,” Kunuk said.
“For 10 months of the year, it’s winter. I’d rather go to Hawaii,” he laughed, “but people live up here for a reason. They must have been escaping from something.”
Wrong Husband features an all-Inuit cast and will be entirely in Inuktitut, although the multilingual crew behind the scenes spoke in Inuktitut, French and English on set, Kunuk said.
Telling Inuit stories in Inuktitut is not just integral to Kunuk’s films, but also his television projects.
In 2021, Nunavut Independent Television Network (NITV), which Kunuk is a board member of, launched Uvagut TV, a channel featuring Inuktitut content and Inuit-made productions.
The channel has since applied to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, or CRTC, to issue a mandatory distribution order, which would ensure Uvagut TV is included in the basic television packages offered by every Canadian cable and satellite provider.
Kunuk said he’s also put a proposal forward to secure regular funding for the channel.
“If CRTC pulls through, we’ll have it made. We’ll have funding every year,” he said.
It will also help support more Inuit content creation like feature films, and more programming for children and women, for example.
In the meantime, Kunuk and his team are moving ahead with editing and post-production of Wrong Husband, which will incorporate more visual and sound effects than his previous projects.
He hopes to have it completed by next year ahead of the Toronto International Film Festival in September, but Kunuk’s preference is to take his time.
“What’s the rush?” he laughed. “We want to do a good job.”
Correction: This article has been updated from its original version to correct the name of the organization that launched Uvagut TV. It was Nunavut Independent Television Network was behind its launch.