Atanarjuat: The fast runner (2001) chronicles an Inuit legend older than the Christianity. Director Zacharias Kunuk grabs and retells this legend passed through oral traditions into an indigenous motion picture.
Adapted into a motion picture script by Paul Apak Angilirq, the film strongly draws on the known records of the island to craft the legend into a cinematic detail. Costume attires and residential manners are based on old sketches of these indigenous Inuits.
Set in ancient Igloolik, the story is about rivalry over women, lust and family betrayal. Families share an igloo each and continue to survive amidst scarcity of food and harsh nature. Women look after house and children, while men hunt faunas and sled dogs to transport their commodities. Living in small herds, Inuits possess tendency for a strong bonding, but in the contrary are overtly ruled by lustful desires, and thus aroused rivalries.
Killings take place, families break, and a society is divided, and the story craves for a resolution. As in all legends, the story seemingly seeks for a hero to free his people from sorrows and sufferings. Unlike many prevalent tales, where hero is possessed by strong avenging spirit, Atanarjuat, the major victim of villains, rises as the forgiver with a timeless lesson to the humankind, completely departing from a predictable resolution.
Atanarjuat, on whom the legend is based, is played by Natar Ungalaaq. Atanarjuat is the fast runner in the Inuit community. This physical knack helps him survive a murderous chase inflicted upon him by evil spirited rival, Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq).
The technical part of the film is kept lowly and humble. Extreme cold and iced location doesn’t seemingly promise one an easy technical run. Film is made in an extreme environmental limit. Camera corresponds this harshness by rejecting standard rules of smooth pans, tilts, or picturesque stillnesses. It can zoom into anything and anyone whenever the moments and feels ask to. Low lights and shadows, and the messy framings retain an intimacy with the essence of Inuit’s life.
The epic tale of Atanarjuat is crafted with great attention to historical detail. Director Kunuk agonizes how coming of colonizer Christianity has been destructive to his people and their culture. This oral tradition of passing on legends didn’t flourish then because dancing and telling stories were almost banned. When he was born, Christianity had already split his community into two halves: Catholic and Anglican. Filmmaker’s principal motive here is to wake people up, and to show them in which world their roots come from [referring to his interview].
An entirely inspiring endeavour!