October 9, 2002 -- "The Fast Runner" (Atanarjuat) is sort of the ultimate foreign film for most of us. In a way, it isn't foreign at all, since it was filmed on the North American continent and it stars Native American people speaking a Native American language (Inuit). It is foreign in that it is all about a kind of life and a kind of spirituality that most of us can't even imagine. To see it is to be immersed in an almost totally foreign existence. Unfortunately, the story moves as slow as a glacier for the most part.
Produced by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc. (an independent Inuit production company) the Canadian government and various other organizations, all of the actors in the film are Inuit and the film is based on an Intuit legend. The story takes place around Igloolik ("place of houses") in the eastern arctic wilderness, at the dawn of the first millenium. A mysterious shaman infects a nomadic tribe of Inuit with jealousy, fear, anger and hatred. He bestows a necklace of power on one family and says "Be careful what you wish for." With this power, comes evil.
Years pass and the evil is passed along to a new generation. Two strong hunters, Amaqjuaq (played by Pakkak Innukshuk), the Strong One, and Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq), the Fast Runner, are the object of jealousy and rage, by their rival, Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq). The anger reaches the combustion point when Atanarjuat wins away Oki's wife-to-be, the beautiful Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu). Oki vows he will get even with the proud brothers. Egged on by an evil and manipulative woman named Puja (Lucy Tulugarjuk), Oki and two friends attack the brothers. Who will survive this cycle of hatred and violence, and how will it be ended?
Myth and reality mingle together in odd ways in this film. The realms of flesh and spirit mesh. Telepathic-like powers and spirit guides link minds over great distances and guide people across trackless ice fields. There is an odd ritualized head-punching contest. There is also a flurry of belching, signifying good hunting and plentiful food. There are both arranged marriages and lust at work, along with polygamy. There is the bleak unforgiving landscape and the relentless struggle to survive. All the people in the film seemed to have really small feet. Maybe it was just the bulky clothing on their upper bodies that made it seem that way. It really is a different world up there in the far north.
In most Hollywood movies, evil is connected to Christianity. In this film, there is no hint of Christianity, so the evil, obviously, has to come from somewhere else. That's a nice change. There is also no hint of political correctness. Everybody eats meat, there are no vegetarians, and dogs do get kicked around. The Inuit appear to be light years ahead of us dumb Americans with our morally retarded embrace of capital punishment. The Inuit sense of justice goes way beyond mere revenge or retribution. The Inuit believe that unless the cycle of revenge is short-circuited, the killing will never stop. This is a very refreshingly different view. It is truly a foreign film.
At nearly three hours (172 minutes), I found myself looking at my watch from time to time. The pace of the film is often glacial. Some of the actors in the film have no acting experience and it shows. Some have faces more inscrutable than the stone visage of David Duchovny. At times you see them glancing at the camera, a cardinal sin in movies. Yet the all-Inuit cast certainly gives the film an air of authenticity it would not otherwise have. I've read reports that the original length of this film was about five hours. I believe it. I had a sense of some subplots being cut short or eliminated. The hand of the editor was not light. There is some interesting stuff in the out takes at the end of the film that did not make it into the main film, like a huge mechanical walrus. Now that I would have liked to have seen. This isn't bad at all, however, for a low-budget film ($1.9 million). The cinematography looks good, too. There are some very nice sky shots in the film. The film was shot by Norman Cohn using a wide screen format (16:9) digital Betacam (NTSC). The image was transferred to 35mm by Digital Film Group, Vancouver. This film rates a C+.
Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information. Click here for photos from The Fast Runner.