Zacharias Kunuk

By Barb Nahwegahbow

TORONTO – Zacharias Kunuk was filming in the Arctic, out on the land when he got the phone call from Toronto telling him he’d won the 2017 Clyde Gilmour Technicolour Award. The announcement was made November 28.

The award is presented by the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA) to a Canadian industry figure who has made a substantial and outstanding contribution to the advancement and/or history of Canadian cinema. The award recipient selects an emerging filmmaker to receive $50,000 in services from Technicolor Creative Services.

For the second year running, TFCA has honoured an Indigenous filmmaker with its Clyde Gilmour award. Documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, Abenaki Nation was the recipient last year and she named young Metis filmmaker Amanda Strong to receive Techincolor services.

“It attests to the abundant talent in a community that has been overlooked in the past,” said Peter Howell, TFCA president.

Inuk director, producer and writer, Kunuk has earned international acclaim for his dramatic work. In 2001, his film, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was screened at the Cannes Film Festival where Kunuk won the prestigious Golden Camera award for Best First Feature. Atanarjuat is the first Canadian dramatic feature film produced entirely in Inuktitut. In 2015, it was named as the greatest Canadian film of all time by the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) poll. His most recent feature film, Searchers premiered at TIFF in 2016.

In a telephone interview on December 11, still on location in the Arctic, Zunuk said, he was surprised and happy to receive the award. “It’s nice to win awards,” he said, “because it shows you’re moving forward, going where people go.”

His love affair with the movies started fifty years ago. At the age of nine, he was moved off the land to the community of Igloolik to attend school. Movies were shown in the little community hall every weekend, he said, “and I loved going to the movies. Two hours of entertainment, you get the story and the good guys and the bad guys.” He remembers seeing a lot of “cowboys and Indians movies” with the likes of Tony Curtis.

Kunuk became interested in making films when he realized that the Inuit have a lot of stories that could be good films. At the time, he was working for Inuit Broadcasting and was recording interviews with elders talking about the good old days when they were hunting with their dogs, tracking polar bears. He wanted to hear the sounds of the dogs barking and the other sounds the elders remembered, he said and that’s what drove him to filmmaking.

When he made Atanarjuat:The Fast Runner, he put his whole community to work. “We hired hunters to build the igloos, we hired our mothers to stitch the caribou skins for costumes, and we hired hunters to make the harpoons. The spin-offs are really great,” said Kunuk.

Kunuk has chosen Montreal-based Inuk filmmaker and visual artist Isabella Weetaluktuk to receive $50,000 in services from Technicolor. Weetaluktuk is a graduate of Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NASCAD). Her first film with the NFB, a short titled Three Thousand, premiered at the 18th annual imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in October. She will accept the award at the TFCA gala in January.