We Missed an Anniversary
by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(May 17, 2021 – Toronto, ON) Sometimes we all get a little too busy than we should and in publishing that often that means missing stories we should have covered. Apologies. A few days ago, May 13, marked the 20th anniversary of Zacharias Kunuk’s first feature film, Atanarjuat the Fast Runner being presented in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. It went on to be honoured with the prestigious Caméra d’Or award for the best first film in all sections of the festival since 1978. While the award was well deserved and most welcome, it also marked an important step in the recognition of an Aboriginal production that has since grown in stature over the years. Inuit and First Nations filmmakers from Canada and elsewhere have benefited from the exposure that Cannes has given to this work, which is entirely in Inuktitut.
Atanarjuat the Fast Runner stars Natar Ungalaaq, Paul Qulitalik, Madeline Ivalu, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter Henry Arnatsiaq and Lucy Tulugarjuk in the lead roles. The plot is both simple and complex. It is a story of love as well as a story of Good vs Evil as well as a documentary-style look into the legends of our Indigenous neighbours that the vast majority of us will never get a chance to meet. Evil, in the form of an unknown shaman, divides a small community of nomadic Inuit and upsets their balance and soul. Twenty years pass. Two brothers emerge to challenge the reign of evil: Amaqjuaq, the strong man, and Atanarjuat, the fast man. Atanarjuat wins the hand of the beautiful Atuat at the expense of Oki, the boastful son of the camp chief, who swears revenge. Oki ambushes the brothers in their sleep and kills Amagjuaq, while Atanarjuat miraculously escapes by running naked to the horizon over the spring sea ice. But will he escape the whirlwind of revenge left behind?
Produced by Isuma (located in Igloolik – Nunavut and still active in both film and television) Atanarjuat the Fast Runner is the only film in Canada to have won the Caméra d’Or award. The Canadian release of the film, originally scheduled for September 11, 2001, was postponed to April 12, 2002. Late Isuma co-founder Paul Apak Angilirq wrote the screenplay and the dialogue of the film. In addition to directing, Zacharias Kunuk edited the film with Marie-Christine Sarda and Norman Cohn, also director of photography. Chris Crilly composed the music of the film while James Ungalaaq was responsible for the sets.
Atanarjuat the Fast Runner won:
Camera d’or at the Cannes Film Festival (2001)
Edinburgh International Film Festival: New Director’s Award (2001)
Flanders International Film Festival: Grand Prize (2001)
International Federation of Film Press: Special Mention (2001)
Hawaii International Film Festival: Best Feature Film (2001)
Santa Fe Film Festival: Best Film (2001)
Toronto International Film Festival: Best Canadian Feature Film (2001)
Toronto Film Critics Association: Best Canadian Film (2002)
Toronto Film Critics Association: Best First Film (2002)
Genie Award: Best Direction (2002)
Genie Award: Best Editing (2002)
Genie Award: Best Original Score (2002)
Genie Award: Best Feature Film (2002)
Genie Award: Best Screenplay (2002)
Claude-Jutra Award (2002)
Manila Film Festival: Lino Brocka Award (2002)
Newport International Film Festival: Best Film – Audience Award (2002)
San Diego International Film Festival: Best Feature Film (2002)
Central Ohio Film Critics Association: Best Foreign Language Film (2003)
Phoenix Film Critics Society: Best Foreign Film (2003)
Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time (4th edition): Number 1 (2015)
Isuma will celebrate this 20th anniversary in the fall. Atanarjuat the Fast Runner is distributed by Entertainment One and is available on the iTunes platform.