Ossus Library Index Non-Fiction Movie Index

THE GREAT NORTH

Directed by Bill Reeve and Martin J. Dignard (2000, TVA International)
Narrated by Madeleine Arsenault, starring Adamie Inukpuk and Apmut Kuoljok

The traditional lives of the natives of northern Canada and Sweden.

 

 

4 stars

March 27th, 2001, on the OmniMAX dome

 
   

Beautiful scenery, a touching story, and the travails of animals made this a wonderful film. It also featured the best use of the OmniMAX dome that I've seen to date.

As the film started, and I saw that it was sponsored by Hydro-Quebec, I knew that we were not going to what I consider the True North, that is, above the tree line, and into the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. But it turned out alright, as they focused on local events, instead of going all over the map and trying to describe everything about the North and the northern people.

In Canada, we meet Adamie Inukpuk, an Inuit who is teaching his son how to hunt seals, harvest mussels at low tide, and make an igloo. His son is nearly an adult, and has never slept in an igloo before. The bond they shared was really touching. I love the way the Inuit speak English, slow and gracefully, with an accent that I grew to love when I spent two weeks with them in 1991. The chanting was wondrous, and the celebrations beautiful. Plus, the snow-bears and snow-people they carved were very cute!

We also get to follow a herd of caribou, the main food source for the Inuit. It is absolutely amazing to watch the caribou migrate. This is what the film Migrations should have done. It could have been so much better. The cameras were obviously mounted to a helicopter, which then scared the caribou into a gallop. And from above, filling the entire OmniMAX dome, this was the spectacular highlight of the film. The formed a thin line as they weaved across the northern steppes, and a single line as they swam across the rivers. It was wondrous.

What helped it immensely was the music, which was an integral part of the film. Beginning with soft drumming by native artists, and building into full Enya-style music with soft chants and building crescendos, I was overwhelmed. The music has a natural quality to it that cannot be recreated by rock and roll, which I also love. But this puts me at ease, can energize and provoke philosophical thoughts, all at the same time. It just left me mesmerized.

Over on the other side of the world, we visit the natives of Sweden, who are using a mixture of traditional and modern ways to corral a herd of reindeer, some of which will be used as food, others as draft animals, and the rest will be set free for another year.

This was also beautiful, though at first I wondered if using a helicopter to corral the deer was such a good use of the technology. My fears abated only when they designated someone at the end to lead the deer to freedom once again. It was such an amazing display of sustainable harvesting that I was in awe. They took what they needed and let the rest go. If only we could be more like that.

Throughout it all, the visuals were spectacular. The camera work was a little shaky, which was unnerving on the giant dome -perhaps it would have been better suited to the IMAX screen. But that didn't really take away from the visuals. The barren terrain, the inukshuk, the mountains, rivers, and some trees, were depicted in a stellar light. The northern lights (aurora borealis) should have been shown in normal speed, rather than high speed. I really think they would have been more haunting, and added to the mood of the film.

As mentioned, the other thing that struck me about the film was the music. This film made use of music the way a feature film does, using it when needed to enhance a scene, and make it more powerful, more emotional. I loved the way that worked, and it helped bring the film to a climax. It also drove home the last scene, where we see the baby caribou, followed by an Inuit child, an adult animal and a man. Each has their own way of migrating, through the wilderness or through their souls. Although the song was beautiful as well, I'm not sure it was right to keep the lyrics in English. Perhaps Inuktitut would have been better suited. But that's a minor complaint.

This movie was a great success, all told. Between the music, the sights, and the people, documenting just one aspect of who these people are, the film was able to keep the interest level high without zooming on to a fragmented and nearly disconnected piece just to fill time. Everything flowed naturally, and it was naturally wonderful to behold.

 
   

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