Directors: Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq
Cast: Benjamin Kunuk, Karen Ivalu, Jonah Qunaq
Language: Inuktitut (English Subtitles)
“We grew up watching Indian and Cowboy films when we were children, and we didn’t necessarily like the way we were portrayed, so we decided to make our own one day”. These are the words of Inuk filmmakers Zacharias Kunuk and Natar Ungalaaq as they introduced their film Searchers (Maliglutit) at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The film is inspired by the 1950 John Ford western The Searchers. In the original, a white woman is kidnapped by members of the Comanche Nation, and her husband embarks on a dangerous and often violent journey to find her. In this version, the narrative is flipped and all the characters in the film are Inuit. So the focus is not on the Indian vs the white man. Instead, it focuses on an Inuit community, the harsh environment under which they live, and the results of violent actions taken against a family. An Inuit woman and her daughter are kidnapped by three Inuit men, while her husband and son are away on a hunting trip. The family home is destroyed and the other family members are murdered. Upon returning home, the husband sets out on a journey to find what is left of his family and punish the perpetrators. It is a revenge film and is filled with intense action and nail biting suspense. The film is set in a harsh snowy environment and accurately depicts the reality of life on the frozen tundra. The film depicts the family structure and life of Inuit families, with references to their spiritually, storytelling culture, and value of dream interpretation. For example, in one scene, the grandfather uses a rock and a rope to fashion an apparatus with which to communicate with a spirit/god who instructs them how and where to find their next meal source. During the chase to find his wife and daughter, the husband is aided by a spirit, who guides and directs him on his travels.There is no unnecessary distractions or dialogue, so the focus is entirely on the characters and their actions. Thus making the film extremely easy to follow and understand. The film’s soundtrack also adds to the overall tone of the film. It is a mixture of beautiful drumming sounds, chanting, humming, and base undertones. There is also a bit of poetry or story telling throughout the film. The narrator seems to be one of the victims of the kidnapping, either the mother or her daughter.
Searchers (Maliglutit) is an action packed, suspense filled, and beautifully written and directed film. It is at many times calming and then suddenly intense, which makes for a riveting viewing experience. This film would be enjoyed by those who love action, suspense, and thrillers and also those who enjoy broadening their film experience across cultures. Anyone who has watched the 1950’s version should watch this remake, it makes for an interesting comparison between film making then and now.
Zacharias Kunuk was born in Igloolik, in the Canadian territory of Nunavut. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, his first feature film, premiered in 2001 and won awards at TIFF and the Canes Film Festival. He has produced features for film and TV and has been a pioneer in producing and supporting Inuit film and programming, including helping to create the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation.
Natar Ungalaaq is also from Igloolik, where he originally met co-director Zacharias. He has worked with Zacharias on many projects including helping create the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and staring in his first feature film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. In addition, he is also an accomplished sculptor