Arctic Defenders may be the most important Canadian film ever created, and it’s a story that very few people will know. The film explores the history of the Inuit people, who through patience and determination, crafted the biggest land claim in North America, leading to the creation of Nunavut. Without anger or frustration about what they had been put through, they calmly began forming their own small government, and within a handful of years, had created their own recognized land. It’s an outstanding film, screening at the 2013 Planet In Focus Film Festival on Thursday, November 21, 2013. Toronto Film Scene had a chance to briefly speak with director John Walker about this powerful film.
Describe your film in 10 words or less.
Visionary. Largest land claim in western civilization. Creation of Nunavut.
What inspired you to tell this story?
This is an epic, monumental achievement on the part of Aboriginal people to reclaim their language, heritage, and environment. I would say it’s one of the great stories of this century in terms of what these Inuit were able to pull off and I was inspired by the story. That’s why I wanted to make it because I was inspired and I thought that this story would inspire others.
What did you discover that surprised you most while making this film?
Many things surprised me. The fact that they weren’t angry about how they were treated. They didn’t allow their own anger, in terms of how mistreated they were, to undermine them. They stayed positive, and they stayed focused with a strong belief in themselves. They did not allow the travesty and actions of the Canadian government by pushing them around, shipping them north, dropping them off on beaches in the high Arctic to claim our sovereignty, they didn’t allow that to defeat them, and that amazed me. That really surprised me.
What was the biggest challenge making this film?
To remain open. Not to fall into traps of a southern perspective, and to keep a clear path that this is a film, a collaboration with the Inuit, from our co-producer, researchers, to everyone who is telling this story in the film. Just to maintain that clarity, that this is the Inuit perspective, and to remain open and not to have any preconceived notions from my point of view in terms of how the film should be made, or the kind of perspective that I was bringing to it. Just maintain that openness. I was there to learn, and to listen, and it was a great honor for me to be working with these people.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?
The audience is going to take away a story that they’ve never heard before, and the reactions that I get are like ‘why did we not know this story’ people are surprised that they don’t know. I didn’t know the details of this story, and I’ve been interested in the arctic for many, many years. It’s not surprising, but people are shocked that they didn’t know this story.
What are you working on next?
Well, I’m very, very passionate about Canada. I’m interested in Canadian history, and I think we need to understand why this country exists. There’s a heritage of a political process in Canada to maintain Canadian values, and our language and culture in Quebec and so on and so forth, so I’m going to be pursuing more films of this nature.
What are you most excited about seeing/doing this year at Planet in Focus this year?
I’m really excited to show this film with an audience that are concerned about the environment, because the environment is central. From an Inuit point of view, or an Aboriginal point of view, everything stems from your environment. That’s the place, that’s the conditions in which you are able to do what you do, whether it’s the environment of your office, your home, or the land that surrounds you.
MORE FROM TORONTO FILM SCENE