When Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), an Inuktitut-language film based on Inuit folklore won the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2001, few viewers had ever seen an Inuit film. Spurred by its success, the film’s creators, Igloolik Isuma Productions, went on to raise the profile of Inuit and indigenous filmmaking. In 2008, the company, based in the far-northern Canadian territory of
Nunavut, founded IsumaTV, an interactive web portal now featuring more than 2,000 films—features, shorts and documentaries—by indigenous moviemakers from across the globe. The site now attracts 20,000 unique visitors per month and posts videos in 41 different languages.
Building a hub for indigenous filmmakers is only part of the challenge. Most of their target audience lives in remote rural areas without access to the high-speed connections that support video-streaming websites. Norman Cohn, secretary-treasurer of Igloolik Isuma Productions (and one of its founders), says the company’s against-the-odds success in Cannes was gratifying, but “we realized [there are] limitations of succeeding in the twenty-first century film system when you can’t reach the audiences you aim to reach.”
Low-bandwidth versions of their films are available, but IsumaTV is launching a pilot program this fall in partnership with the Canadian government to install high-speed local Internet servers in seven Inuit communities.
Another of the project’s aims is to use video as a tool to preserve indigenous languages. “Many of these languages are from oral cultures,” Cohn says. “If people aren’t speaking their own languages on television or on the Internet, their children or grandchildren won’t speak them.”