'Before Tomorrow' - Igloolik & Puvirnituq Women Cooperate On Feature Film
JIM BELL, January 19, 2007
Madeline Ivalu of Igloolik plays the lead character, Ningiuq, in “Before Tomorrow”. She also co-directed the film and co-wrote the script with Susan Avingaq and Marie-Hélène Cousineau. Paul-Dylan Ivalu plays Maniq, the grandson of Ningiuq.
Makeup artist Sarah Surusila inscribes traditional tattoos on Madeline Ivalu's face. Camera man Felix Lajeunesse films a drum dancing scene with Peter Henry Arnatsiaq, who plays a character named Apak. Tumasie Sivuarapik of Puvirnituq plays a hunter called Kukik.
When Marie-Hélène Cousineau and her colleagues at Igloolik's women's film collective, Arnait Video Productions, arrived in Puvirnituq last year to begin work on their first full-length feature film, they weren't sure what to expect. After all, they didn't know each other very well and their dialects are obviously different.
But their attempt at collaboration turned into a resounding success. Their joint project, Before Tomorrow is well on its way to completion, and when it's done it will be the third feature-length film to be produced and distributed by the Isuma family.
"The people there were so professional. They were so helpful, and they did what they had to do. They worked very hard. They developed a great relationship with our workers," Cousineau said. "It was not a political exchange. It was across the border, just people meeting people, with a creative purpose. There was no political border."
Cousineau and Igloolik elder Madeline Ivalu are directing Before Tomorrow using a script that Ivalu co-wrote with Susan Avingaq and Cousineau, based on a novel by the Danish-Greenlandic writer Jorn Riel called For Morgendaggen.
Unlike most other creative projects in the Arctic, this is one where women are the bosses. It's written by women, directed by women, most of the protagonists are women, and the film looks at the essential questions of life from a woman's point of view.
Susan Avingaq, an elder from Igloolik, is the art director, with sole responsibility for the look of the film. Attuat Akkitirq is the costume designer.
"For the group of women with whom I have been working for 15 years, it's an amazing experience, because we started very small. We didn't have a camera, we didn't have a place to work, we started with very small things, filming in people's houses. We started from scratch in 1991 with a budget of $5,000 for the year," Cousineau said.
The Arnait group will arrive in Puvirnituq this Monday, January 21, to complete the fourth and last two-week shooting session for Before Tomorrow. When that's over, they'll conduct a workshop for people in Puvirnituq who want to continue working on film projects. Cousineau said a group in Puvirnituq already has a "script in development" that they want to use for another film.
"They are very interested in producing more. They have lots of stories too."
She points out that such projects take time to fund and develop. But she says the Makivik Corp.'s enthusiastic support made a big difference. Makivik is helping a lot more with finance. They are putting money on the table. The Inuit organization of Nunavut wrote a support letter, but never gave us any money," she said.
Before Tomorrow is a Nunavut-Quebec co-production, with funding supplied by Telefilm Canada, the Nunavut Film Commission, the Quebec film corporation SODEC, and the Makivik Corp. Cousineau said that after shooting finishes up, they'll start editing the footage, hoping to create a finished cut by the end of the summer. They have yet to decide how and when Before Tomorrow will be released, but Cousineau says it's certain they'll do special premieres in Igloolik and Puvirnituq.
She also said that it will likely be shown within a traveling distribution system that Isuma is trying to set up for all aboriginal communities in Canada.
Set somewhere in the Arctic in the middle of the 19th century, Before Tomorrow tells the story of Ningiuq, an old woman consumed with dread as she contemplates her impending death. After a joyful reunion with another family, Ningiuq, played by Madeline Ivalu, finds herself alone on an island with her grandson, Maniq, played by Paul-Dylan Ivalu, and her best friend, Kutuguq, played by Mary Qulitalik.
After a disaster strikes, Ningiuq and Maniq find themselves feeling as if they are the last people left on earth. Ningiuq uses her spirituality and her survival skills to keep Maniq alive - but she feels her own death approaching and she doesn't know what to do.
She said the film, produced entirely in Inuktitut, is aimed first of all at an Inuit audience and at aboriginal people in general. "We're filming in Puvirnituq, but it's not a story that is taking place in Puvirnituq, or Igloolik, or Gjoa Haven, or Greenland. It could be happening anywhere," Cousineau said.
But Cousineau said it's the kind of film in which audiences of all cultures will find meaning. "It's about the questions of life, love and the meaning of your family and your culture. So I think it's very universal. It's the story of this woman who has to take serious decisions about survival and the last days of her life."
"I think everybody can be touched."
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