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Two brothers, Amaqjuaq (Pakkak Innukshuk ) and Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) are destined to challenge the order of life in a small nomadic Inuit community (many generations ago), which has been under the evil spell of an unknown shaman. The chief’s son, Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq) resents Atanarjuat when the latter wins the lovely Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu) as a wife, and seeks to kill him. But Atanarjuat survives escapes and runs for his life over the ice, with Oki in pursuit. And instead of revenge, he begins the process of healing the community – in his own fashion.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Acclaimed by critics, festivals and audiences around the world, Atanarjuat is a beguiling and fascinating film, especially for Australian audiences. It is an expression of indigenous storytelling, trying to capture ancient oral history that has fashioned contemporary lives. It is a cultural lifebelt thrown into the waters of modern communication and entertainment, a way of interpreting the past for the present – and the future – by a culture fading in its own shadow. It is certainly fascinating as cultural time travel and cultural insight, with a dramatic curve that begins late in the film and has a remarkable trajectory unlike most western films. The folkloric nature of the film also makes it challenging for most audiences, but the settings, characters and exotic subject matter balance that, so we are never left to doodle. The film’s dramatic power comes from the eternal triangle, so nothing new there (not since Adam, Eve and the serpent, anyway), but in the context, the familiar gets a new set of clothes. For serious film lovers, this is a must; for those who have hefty schedules, it’s a maybe. 

Review by Richard Kuipers:
It's always exciting when cinematically unchartered territory is explored on screen. The only other film to prominently feature the inhabitants and landscape of far north Canada is Robert Flaherty's 1922 documentary Nanook of the North. Eighty years later it's the residents of the newly declared (1999) Canadian territory of Nunavut who have brought one of their great folk tales to the screen. A little confusing to begin with as the legend and its background are recounted by various members of the community, Atanarjuat rewards our patience by serving up a story rich in juicy melodrama. Murder, jealousy and infidelity are all part of this tale that proves the elements of a good yarn are the same no matter where you go. The landscape in which Atanarjuat's (Natar Ungulaaq) romance with Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu) and rivalry with hot-headed Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq) takes place is stunning to put it mildly. Even the most ordinary moments of life are exciting to watch as the ceaseless cycle of hunting and eating are depicted. When the tempo increases it's even more compelling - Atanarjuat's naked run across the ice is an instant classic sequence in the history of the medium. The pace is deliberately slow and you could argue the film might be even better minus half an hour but there'll also be audiences who want to see another half hour of this remarkable achievement. Knowing that the keepers of the tale made this film (DOP Norman Cohn, who has lived in the region since 1985, is the only non-Inuit in key cast and crew) adds another layer of meaning. Far from being an ethnographic curio, Atarnajuat is a collective cultural expression made without concessions and it works wonderfully well.

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CAST: Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugrajuk, Madeliane Ivalu, Pauloose Qulitalik, Eugene Opkarnak, Pakkak Innukshuk

PRODUCER: Germaine Ying Gee Wong

DIRECTOR: Zacharias Kunuk

SCRIPT: Paul Apak Angilirk


EDITOR: Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn, Marie-Chrsitine Zarda

MUSIC: Chriss Crilly


RUNNING TIME: 172 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Sydney: August 22, 2002; Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide: August 29, 2002

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