Continuing with his passion for making films that expose and remove prejudices, Quebec filmmaker Guy Simoneau has created Qallunaaliaqpallianiq – Heading South, a compelling new documentary that focuses on Inuit living in southern cities of Canada. The five people who this film follows are a varied group with little in common except a shared ancestry and desire to help their community. All five – an artist, a lawyer, a caterer, a community leader and a student – are trying to reconcile their Aboriginal past and culture with modern life in an urban setting. The purpose of Qallunaaliaqpallianiq is to dispel those preconceived notions which reduce Native peoples to just their problems and to showcase how they work hard for each other and their communities.
Marie, a young Inuk student, heading to Ottawa for university is the central focus of this documentary. She represents all the potential and determination of her people. Her story doesn’t fit in with the others because she is still learning who she is as an Inuk and as a Canadian. As the documentary progresses, the story of these people’s lives draws us in because they love what they do. We see how they work and we follow their progress, from cooking a traditional Inuit meal or carving a whale bone for a museum to fighting for a community health centre or struggling for reconciliation. Throughout all of these events, we see the tenacity and strength of these five Inuit and their devotion to their brethren in the North who inspire them to keep on keeping on.
Through these five individuals, we are given a window into the lives of the Inuit communities in the south be it in Montreal, Ottawa or Toronto. How they handle the different environment and culture while still holding onto their culture, tradition and language. Out of the five only two are shown speaking Inuktitut fluently while the other three have little to no knowledge of the language. It is not just the young people who are losing their language but as a result of Canada’s dark history in its treatment of Aboriginals many to be forced to disconnect from their language and heritage.
The Inuit are a proud people but unfortunately in the public eye they are only shown in negative ways since only the problems that plague their communities are portrayed. What Simoneau does in his film is to reveal the pride these five individuals have for Inuit culture and community as well as to show outsiders what is really going on and not to dwell on the negative images created by the mainstream.
The documentary is done in Simoneau’s distinct style – a personal and up-close view on the daily lives of his subjects. By being with the people in their homes, the director has given his film a comfortable setting which is contrary to what you would expect from a fish-out-of-water story. This comfort and openness enable viewers to connect emotionally with the five because what we see is so raw and vivid. The strength of the documentary is how on a personal level all the characters’ lives are connected to their community – something we should all strive for.
Qallunaaliaqpallianiq has all the key ingredients to appeal to a larger public: down-to-earth and personal filmmaking, inspirational individuals who have achieved despite adversity, and a touching and hopeful ending. For the new generation of young Inuit there will be a new class of role models, ones who have adapted to the changing world and thrived while keeping a link to the past and promoting their culture.