Published August 24, 2020 by Genevieve LeMoine

The Arctic on Screen – What to Watch Part III: Inuit Women on Both Sides of the Camera

Recently in Canada, the Indigenous Screen Office (ISO), an organization supporting Indigenous filmmakers and storytellers across the country, announced the recipients of  their Netflix Apprenticeship and Cultural Mentorship Program. Among them is Red Marrow Media, a new production company established by two talented women, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Stacey Algok-MacDonald. It should come as no surprise that two women filmmakers stood out, and they are not alone -  women have had a strong presence in contemporary Inuit film for decades.

In the 1990s, Quebecois filmmaker Marie-Hélène Cousineau first offered a workshop in video production to women in Igloolik. Out of that initial workshop grew the Women’s Video Workshop of Igloolik, later renamed Arnait Video Productions (AVP). Their goal was, and is, to tell Inuit women’s stories. Arnait (which means women in Inuktitut) welcomed all who were interested, and key participants included Mary Kunuk, Madeline Ivalu, Susan Avingaq and Atuat Akkitirq. In a 2019 interview with Laura McGough for INCITE Journal of Experimental Media, Cousineau describes the origins of AVP and the long and incredibly productive relationship she developed with the women of Igloolik, but most particularly with Ivalu and Avingaq. Over time the workshop transformed from a loose collective producing innovative short films to a non-profit and ultimately a for-profit production company, giving them increased access to funding for more ambitious, feature-length productions.

Arnait’s website provides background to their approach to filmmaking, as well as links to their films (hosted on The documentaries are made primarily for an Inuit audience, so most are entirely in Inuktitut, although some have English subtitles. Even without subtitles, some, such as Traditional Clothing Igloolik Style (20 minutes, Inuktitut), are very watchable. Even if you don’t get the jokes they laugh at, it is enthralling to watch a group of skilled seamstresses work at every stage of making skin clothing, from cleaning the hides to sewing and even cutting a delicate fringe.  Early videos focus on traditional subjects, such as Qulliq, Oil Lamp, from 1993 (10 minutes, Inuktitut with English subtitles), in which a group of women prepare a traditional lamp in an igloo. Others explore subjects ranging from storytelling, life histories, and traditional crafts, often using experimental approaches.

Eventually, following the model of Isuma (and often working with them), Arnait began producing feature films as well. Their first, Before Tomorrow (2009, 1 hour 33 minutes, Inuktitut with English subtitles) was directed by Cousineau and Ivalu, who also starred in it as an elder stranded on the land with her grandson in the mid-1800s. In Canada it is available for rent or purchase though iTunes. More recent films, such as Uvanga (2013, 1 hour 27 minutes, English and Inuktitut with English subtitles, on iTunes in Canada) which follows a Montreal woman visiting the family of his Inuit father for the first time, increasingly explore contemporary issues facing northern communities.

Ivalu, Cousineau, and Avingaq continue to be deeply involved in Arnait productions, as actors, writers, designers, and producers, working with a range of others and addressing contemporary issues with their unique perspective. Restless River (2019, 1 hour 38 minute, Inuktitut with English subtitles, available for purchase on VIMEO) follows a young Inuk woman as she lives as a single mother in the rapidly changing years following the Second World War.  Tia and Piujuq (2018, not available for streaming) was co-written directed by Lucy Tulugarjuk, who has been working in film and television since 1997, both as an actor (most famously Puju in Atanarjuat The Fast Runner) and in production.

The women of Arnait are not alone, however. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril stands out. Her path to filmmaking was different, beginning as a producer before moving into writing and directing. She is perhaps most widely known for her award winning 2016 film Angry Inuk (1 hour 22 minutes, available to purchase or rent through Amazon Prime video), a moving and thought-provoking documentary focusing on the Inuit struggle against the European ban on sealskin. She has other films well worth watching as well, including Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos (50 minutes, Inuktitut with English subtitles, available for purchase here), and the animated short Lumaajuuq, a retelling of the Inuit legend “the blind boy and the loon.”

These links are only a taste of the many terrific films made by Inuit women. We can expect many more to come.