The GN has failed Rankin Inlet
The history of filmmaking in Canada’s Arctic is almost as long as the history of filmmaking itself.
When you consider that, it’s truly astonishing that Canada’s newest Arctic government does not yet have a policy on the film industry. If it had one, the people of Rankin Inlet would not now be watching $800,000 worth of economic activity go down the drain. That’s the minimum estimate of what they lost when the producers of The Snow Walker decided recently to take their project to Churchill, Manitoba, instead of Rankin Inlet.
Rankin Inlet is represented by two cabinet ministers – Manitok Thompson of Rankin Inlet South-Whale Cove, and Jack Anawak of Rankin Inlet North – and its voters must surely be asking why the Nunavut cabinet allowed this fiasco to occur.
The first Inuk in Canada to be paid for work on a commercial motion picture was Daniel Allakariallak, a man from the Inukjuak area who died of starvation in 1923. Millions of cinema-goers around the world know him as “Nanook of the North,” of Robert Flaherty’s documentary film of the same name, released in 1922.
Since then, filmmakers have made hundreds of documentary and feature films in the Arctic. Some, like Land of the Long Day by Doug Wilkinson, were brilliant. Others were dreadful.
But by the 1970s and 1980s, film production became more than just a curious activity that every once in a while produced a brilliant documentary. It became a valuable economic activity leading to jobs, skills training and business growth for Nunavut residents, especially Inuit.
In 1974, the producers of The White Dawn hired dozens of Inuit from Iqaluit and Cape Dorset as actors and extras. That was followed in 1977 by Ed Folger’s Nanook Taxi, and the creation of the Iqaluit-based Nunatsiakmiut Film Society. That group produced many Inuit-made Inuktitut language films – especially animations – still shown occasionally on APTN. Unfortunately, most of that creative spirit melted away when the federal government forced Nunatsiakmiut to merge with the Inuit Broadcast Corporation.
But later on, Igloolik Isuma Productions picked up where Nunatsiakmiut left off, breaking new trails in the production of Inuit-controlled Inuktitut-language drama, culminating with Atanarjuat. This stunning creation involved scores of Igloolik residents, circulating hundreds of thousands of dollars throughout the community and exposing dozens of people to new ways of earning cash.
Meanwhile, southern production companies showed up regularly in Nunavut throughout the 1980s and 1990s, most often in Iqaluit, to shoot scenes for Arctic or Antarctic feature films and made-for-TV movies, such as The Last Place on Earth, Map of the Human Heart, Trial at Fortitude Bay, Shadow of the Wolf, and many others.
These projects created hundreds of jobs and business opportunities for Nunavut residents. Nunavut residents acted, guided, translated, drove vehicles, catered meals, offered advice and supplied numerous other goods and services. On each one, Nunavut residents learned new skills and gained new experience.
When government officials use fancy words like “economic development” and “capacity building,” that’s the kind of thing they’re talking about.
So it’s curious that Finance Minister Kelvin Ng’s recent budget contained no new measures aimed at helping the film industry in Nunavut. What’s even more curious is that a year before, in March 2001, Nunavut government officials were given a set of proposals on how to do that, at a film industry gathering in Iqaluit.
One year later, nothing. The Nunavut government’s sole response was to issue a press release “welcoming” the creation of a film industry association in Nunavut. How nice. They also say some bureaucratic brainiacs have been put to work on a “draft” policy. How diligent.
Ng’s recent budget, which contained sweeping changes to tax policy in Nunavut, offered no tax credits to the film industry, which means Nunavut is still one of the few jurisdictions in Canada without them. And there are no provisions for the kinds of labour and travel rebates used in most other jurisdictions – such as Manitoba – to attract film production companies.
At the time, Ng bragged that his new tax measures make Nunavut’s personal and corporate income tax rates the lowest in Canada, and would encourage more private investment in the territory. But at least one group of private investors has since decided that Manitoba is a better place to operate than Nunavut.
Having been kicked in the face by their own government, and failed by their two high-profile MLAs, the people of Rankin Inlet will have a lot of time to think about this between now and the next election.