The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is a unique look, through Inuit Director Zacharias Kunuk’s eyes, of the virtual end of Inuit spirituality based on the ancient ways of the Shaman.
Created along with co-director Norman Cohn, Journals opened the Native American film Festival at the Smithsonian institute in New York City on November 29. The film gives a heartfelt glimpse into one of the main reasons why so many Inuit became Christians: necessity.
During the early 20th century, the Inuit were barely surviving. As a nomadic culture, the Inuit fought the extreme weather and even more extreme attitudes of explorers and missionaries. Food was scarce.
In the film, based on the travels of real-life traveler Knud Rasmussen, there is a scene in which the Shaman and his people finally arrive at Iglulik. They are told that food would be plentiful if they accepted Jesus into their lives. Aua refuses the offer and tells his people to build igloos away from the village. After a brief argument, Rasmussen and one of his Danish friends head over to eat, leaving their guides behind.
Aua’s daughter, Apak, has an amazing ability to see the spirits like her father does and is seen as special. Iglulik’s songs and the smell of fresh meat, however, lure Apak to the faith and change her life when she must choose between her spirituality and life-saving sustenance.
Eventually, starving and faced with a dire situation, Aua himself gives in and eats meat forbidden to a Shaman. From there, the spirits flee and the Inuit culture is changed forever.
Some would say Christianity was a trick. Others claim that accepting the new faith was a good thing that needed to happen. The reality though, is that much of the Inuit culture was destroyed when the white missionaries came north.
The story is based around Rasmussen, a Dane who is welcomed into Aua’s village, partially because he speaks their language. He asks them to take him on a journey to Iglulik. Despite many obstacles and horrible weather and near starvation, Rasmussen is insistent that they press on.
It tells a story only an Inuit director can. It shows the light heartedness of the people and gives them character. This movie could not have been made (or it would not have been made as it was) without an Inuk touch.
Unfortunately a snowstorm kept Kunuk from attending during the screening in New York City. Also unfortunate were the problems with the sound, due to faulty equipment, and some scenesthat were too dark, presumably because of bad lighting during the shoot.
Another thing that struck me about the latest film from the directors who brought us Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was the speed. It snakes along at a rather tepid pace and the thought that it was a slow runner popped into my head a few times. The best way to describe the pace is deliberate.
There is also a mention of a white man being murdered. Eventually we find out who did it, but the drama was lost on most of the audience. It seemed like an afterthought rather than an integral part of the story.
Although visually alluring and, at times fun to watch, Journals will probably only be able to make a limited run in theatres. Southern audiences just won’t get the message. Five people left 10 minutes before the end, possibly due to other engagements, but probably due to their inability to relate. At the beginning, one of the representatives for the film said “you’ll either like it from the start or you’ll never get it.” Unfortunately the latter sounds about right for much of the target audience.