Films and filmmaking have been an integral part of Ottawa-based Mosha Folger’s life since infancy. His father, Ed Folger, was a filmmaker in the 1960s and 1970s and Mosha notes that while growing up “we were exposed to foreign films, [including] French films, Italian films and Japanese films.” The dramatic cuts and unconventional perspectives of cult-classics such as Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 anime feature Akira inspired Folger’s early stop- motion productions like The Big Lemming (2014), a short film that uses stark imagery of a snow-covered landscape and a driving viola soundtrack to reveal that even the lemming has power and place in the mythology of the Arctic.
His most recent documentary Iglu:Angirraq (House:Home) (2018) centres on the unique experiences of homelessness among Inuit in Iqaluit, NU. Folger himself is intimately tied to this story both through his former step-mother Annie Iola and his own experiences with “hidden homelessness” and overcrowded housing. Interspersed with interviews from numerous Iqaluit residents about their experiences, Iglu:Angirraq follows Iola’s story, spanning from her early life in tiny matchbox- style social housing as a young girl in the 1960s to her living on the streets of Ottawa, ON, and then to present- day Iqaluit, where despite having a good job, she is still unable to secure residence due to the housing crisis and inaccessibility of units in the capital city. The director hopes the film sheds light on the stories of individuals living under the crushing weight of homelessness in the Arctic. “It was an educational endeavour,” he explains. “I wanted to help people who knew the story to tell it and to try and reach a wider audience.”
– Napatsi Folger
Napatsi Folger: How did you get started in filmmaking?
Mosha Folger: The first film I worked on was a short film that my father, Edward Folger, made called The Soul of Wit (2007). I was just a production assistant and it only took a couple of weekends to shoot. In 2008, my father and I made a 20 minute documentary that was centred around some poems that I performed. It was me performing the pieces and then using images and video to illustrate the words. The film was called Never Saw It, and there was a Hip-hop song at the end. So, when I made my first solo foray, without help or mentorship from my father, it was a music video for a Hip-hop group that I was a part of called the Counterfeit Nobles. I made the decision that we could not afford to do a high-quality HD music video, especially since my rhyme partner was across the country in Vancouver. So, instead, I made a stop motion music video for the track “Sides.”
It went on to win best music video at ImagiNative Film + Media Arts Festival in 2012. After that, I did a couple other stop motion pieces. I have a short film call The Big Lemming (2014) based on a print of the same name by Pudlo Pudlat, my maternal grandfather, who was a well-known artist in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU.
NF: Who or what are some of your influences?
MF: Well, the first one was my father. He was a filmmaker in the 1960s and 1970s who worked in New York and Los Angeles. So, growing up, the movies that we were watching were not the typical movies watched in Apex by other kids. We were exposed to foreign films, French films, Italian films, Japanese films and more. Aesthetically the director that has stuck in my head the most is Katsuhiro Otomo. When I look at my work, like “Sides,” I notice the cutting and angles similar to his animated film Akira (1988).
I did not grow up only watching Hollywood blockbusters. So, it was a much more of a cinéma vérité kind of a style—less set-up seeming and more natural, almost documentary-like. So that’s why I think I was able to transition to making documentaries.
NF: Can you tell me about your recent film Iglu: Angirraq (House: Home) (2018)?
MF: Iglu: Angirraq is about the housing and homelessness crisis in my home town of Iqaluit, NU. I realized that beyond the Inuit in and around the issue, not a lot of people understand the extent of the issues. And, how many people really are homeless in this place. The documentary was an educational endeavor. I wanted to help people who knew the story, to tell it and to try and reach a wider audience.
The film follows my former stepmother, Annie Iola, who was homeless in Ottawa, ON, and was eventually able to transition away from life on the street and get her life back into better order while moving back to Iqaluit. So, Annie has really experience the majority of the story surroundinng Inuit homelessness throughout her life. Her parents were born on the land and later moved Iqaluit, so her whole life has been in this upheaval. She was born in the early 1960s in a tiny matchbox house, and has experienced various degrees of homelessness since. Her story touched on all the aspects of the issue, and the film really centres on her and her story.
As a crew—which included Mark (Billy) Pitseolak, John Lewis and Napatsi Folger—we also interviewed many different people to highlight the various aspects of the issue that Annie discusses. We talked to Madeline Redfern, the Mayor of Iqaluit. We spoke to people like the Senator for Nunavut Dennis Patterson, who had just finished a report on homelessness. But, we didn’t want to make it only bureaucratic officials telling us the story. We went to the homeless shelter in Iqaluit and talked to six different men to hear their stories. They spoke of all the different kinds of homelessness that they had encountered before they arrived at the shelter. We talked to people who had experienced homelessness in Iqaluit whether living in a shack or in overcrowded housing. We talked to a family who had 11 people living in a shack before they got a house. And, when they finally received a place, those 11 people were living in a three-bedroom unit. We used these interviews to illustrate the different elements that contribute to homelessness in the city. Ultimately, after collecting these sources, we put them together and tied them into Annie’s story so viewers could see that this has been an ongoing issue since the 1960s.
When you start out with this kind of project, you want people to see it and hear the message. And, if they have the power, to try and help to change it—whether it be Federal Government, Territorial Government or just people volunteering in the town or getting involved.
NF: Are there any upcoming projects you would like to discuss?
MF: Lately, I’ve been transitioning back to writing. I think writing has always been my strongest skill. So, I’ve been concentrating on the script writing aspect of filmmaking. I have a couple of ideas for scripts that I’ve been mulling over and juggling around.
My work has been independent, fiercely independent, and in a lot of ways has been detrimental to my reach. I’ve been working to try to find that kind of balance: the genre, the medium that can best convey my message while also allowing me to maintain that control. That’s why I think I’m moving away from documentaries and filmmaking. Especially independent filmmaking, as it is such a collaborative effort that to be a successful documentary filmmaker, you have to be one aspect of it. Someone else has to have control over the edit, and the final say. Somebody else has to have control over graphics. It’s not ideal for somebody like me who is a stubborn intransigent person. I want to convey my message, and that’s why I’m moving more towards writing. There are many more avenues to have your writing be seen whether in magazines, or publishing books. You can reach a wider audience with more control over the message.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
This Profile appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.