Annabella Piugattuk was born in Iqaluit and was living in Igloolik when she was asked to audition for The Snow Walker. The movie, which opened March 5 across the country, is based on a short story written by Canadian author Farley Mowat.
Piugattuk plays an Inuit dying of tuberculosis out on the land when a selfish bush pilot reluctantly agrees to fly her to a hospital after being bribed with two walrus tusks. The plane proceeds to crash hundreds of miles from the nearest village with winter fast approaching. Piugattuk’s character shows the bush pilot how to survive off the land and ultimately shows him the beauty of the Inuit culture. The story takes place in the 1950s, when the common belief was that all Inuit were savages and burdens; their culture was an enigma and the land inhospitable.
Piugattuk is pleased to be representing the Inuit and has received much critical acclaim for her performance. She now lives in Vancouver and is currently trying to finish high school. The Nation had the opportunity to ask her a few questions as she was en route from a photo shoot to another interview.
The Nation: What is it like being an internationally acclaimed actress?
Annabella: It’s kind of wonderful, it’s kind of overwhelming. I’m feeling full of gratitude and I feel blessed. It’s so many emotions; it’s kind of hard to word them. It’s an amazing feeling to realize that I’ve ended up becoming a role model for Aboriginals and Inuit.
What are you most proud of in terms of the movie?
I’m really proud of it all, that it was made; that Farley Mowat decided to write about Inuit at that time and that Charlie decided to write a script on it because it actually happened to Inuit. It’s not a true story but it’s a true story to some of the Inuit who are still living today, who had to live through that kind of environment and situation. So I’m really proud that this film has the opportunity to help non-natives and Native people see what people had to go through during the 1950s.
What was the toughest part about making the movie?
The weather was pulling us down. It was kind of brutal trying to work when there were so many mosquitoes going into your eyes and nose and mouth and just all over your face. They’re not as right in your face up in Igloolik.
Your co-star, Barry Pepper, made the comment that this film really made people bond in a profound and meaningful way. Do you think that the bonding that happened was typical of the way of life in the north?
It was so normal for me. I guess that’s why so many people like my performance, because I knew the land itself. When we go out on the land it’s just so casual and so calm and relaxing. The bonding and the connections between people when out on the land, it’s like in that movie. The land is our land, the land is our world. We are not the world, so you have to really respect the land because it can strip you dead. How do you feel about being considered a role model for your community and the Innu in general?
I feel really grateful because not a lot of Inuit get this kind of an opportunity and help bring out the best in Inuit and Aboriginal people. It’s a wonderful feeling and kind of nerve wracking as well. That’s why I’m getting my Grade 12 because a role model should have at least an education and be a good person.
What is your biggest fear?
My biggest fear is losing my culture and my background, and not being able to go back home. I still talk to a lot of my friends and family, they are only a phone call away.
I don’t want to lose my language so I try to call as often as I can.
What is the most important thing your parents taught you?
Being myself and work hard at getting what I want. They never just allowed me to get what I wanted from them; I had to work at it sometimes.
What are your goals for the future?
My first priority is getting my Grade 12. And I want to pursue acting. My other goals are to be an elementary school teacher for children with special needs.