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The Fast Runner

Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat

Michael Robert Evans

Publication Year: 2010

One of the most important Native films of all time, Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner tells a powerful and moving story about honor, betrayal, vengeance, and redemption. Set in the vast, visually stunning Arctic landscape, it was the first feature film written, directed, and acted entirely in Inuktitut, the language of Canada’s Inuit people. Canada’s top-grossing release of 2002, the film became an international phenomenon, receiving the prestigious Camera d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival and earning rave reviews from every quarter, including Margaret Atwood (“like Homer with a video camera”), Claude Lévi-Strauss, Jacques Chirac, and Roger Ebert. “The Fast Runner”: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat takes readers behind the cameras, introducing them to the culture, history, traditions, and people that made this movie extraordinary. Michael Robert Evans explores how the epic film, perhaps the most significant text ever produced by indigenous filmmakers, artfully married the latest in video technology with the traditional storytelling of the Inuit. Tracing Atanarjuat from inception through production to reception, Evans shows how the filmmakers managed this complex intercultural “marriage”; how Igloolik Isuma Productions, the world’s premier indigenous film company, works; and how Inuit history and culture affected the film’s production, release, and worldwide response. His book is a unique, enlightening introduction and analysis of a film that serves as a model of autonomous media production for the more than 350 million indigenous people around the world.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. viii

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pp. ix

Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn, Pauloosie Qulitalik, Pacome Qulaut, and other Isuma producers helped me in personal and professional ways as I gathered the information presented in this book. I am grateful for their patience and assistance. ...

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pp. ix

I have previously published a book about Igloolik Isuma Productions, titled Isuma: Inuit Video Art. That book, published by McGill– Queens University Press, includes a chapter on The Fast Runner. It also contains material about the people of Isuma and other facets important to this story. While the writing for this book ...

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Series Editors' Introduction

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pp. xi-xiii

We are proud to have Michael Evans’s “The Fast Runner”: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat as the first entry in the new book series, Indigenous Films. For the past three years we have sought out scholars we consider uniquely qualified to write about a particular film as a portal to the Native culture it depicts. The series will feature concise books on individual Native films, including ...

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pp. xv-xix

Follow the western shore of Hudson Bay northward until the wide expanse of water crimps into a sliver of the Arctic Ocean called the Fury and Hecla Strait. The island looming to the north and east — the fifth-largest island in the world — is Baffin Island, home to caribou herds and Inuit villages and Iqaluit, the capital of the new Canadian territory of Nunavut. Tucked between Baffin Island and the mainland is a much smaller island, shaped like a cracked stone. ...

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pp. xx-xxi

The characters in The Fast Runner are numerous and sometimes difficult to keep straight. One particular challenge in the film is that the beloved camp leader Kumaglak was the father of the evil Sauri, so that family went from “good” to “bad” in the course of one generation. This chart organizes the characters by family and lists ...

Pronunciation of Names

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pp. xxii

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Chapter One: The Context of the Creation

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pp. 1-18

Any expression of culture loses meaning when separated from its context. Without an understanding of the circumstances in which the art was created — the physical, social, and spiritual environments within which the creation happened — the significance of the work and the lessons it offers dwindle into impotence. ...

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Chapter Two: Seeing the Unseen

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pp. 19-31

Zacharias Kunuk and the other Isuma producers went to great lengths to make The Fast Runner ethnographically true. They consulted elders about language, relationships, clothing, implements, and other facets of Inuit life represented in the film. They considered ...

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Chapter Three: The People and the Path of Isuma

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pp. 32-47

Igloolik Isuma Productions is a loose collection of people. It expands when funding comes in and a project is under way, then contracts again when projects end and the group applies for the next production grant. In its largest formation — for example, during work on ...

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Chapter Four: Isuma's Motives

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pp. 48-62

Understanding the reasons behind a producer’s work is vital to understanding the work itself. Did she create a movie with the goal of making money? Was she trying to advance his own career? ...

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Chapter Five: The Legend and Its Variants

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pp. 63-85

In the late 1990s, Paul Apak Angilirq came up with the idea of turning the legend of Atanarjuat into a full-length feature film that would rely almost entirely on Inuit talent. He collected eight variants of the legend from Igloolik elders, wrote an overarching version of the story in English (which was required for the funding applications), then showed it to the other principals of Igloolik Isuma Productions, the video organization for which he worked. ...

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Chapter Six: Reviews and Awards

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pp. 86-100

When Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn, and the other members of the Isuma team were working on the Fast Runner project — dealing with funding delays, changes in the cast, the need to focus on a hundred things at once — they were confident that they were creating something special. That confidence was rewarded once the film was released: Despite the use of the ...

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Chapter Seven: Lifeways as Context

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pp. 101-120

As a form of cultural expression, a film carries with it numerous simultaneous layers of meaning. On the surface, such elements as plot and character convey intended and unintended significance, focusing largely on specific points about individuals, their relationships, and the ways in which they deal with their circumstances. The action takes place within two sets ...

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Chapter Eight: Local and Global Environments

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pp. 121-126

As Zacharias Kunuk was enduring my endless string of questions throughout my nine-month research project in Igloolik, he made it clear to me that although Isuma was carrying out a visionary program of cultural communication in video, other organizations were pursuing similar paths in different parts of the world. He strongly suggested that I also spend time in the Australian outback, learning what I could about Aboriginal videography. ...


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pp. 127


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pp. 129-130


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pp. 131-133


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pp. 135-140

E-ISBN-13: 9780803228412
E-ISBN-10: 0803228414
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803222083
Print-ISBN-10: 0803222084

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 9 photos, 1 map, 1 table
Publication Year: 2010