Following its world premiere in Halifax, NS, this fall, Nalujuk Night (2021) was awarded Best Atlantic Short Documentary at the FIN Atlantic Film Festival. Nalujuk Night is the debut documentary film directed by Jennie Williams, which follows the Nunatsiavut tradition of the same name that happens every winter in Labrador.
In the dark of night on January 6, the Nalujuit appear on the eastern sea ice. These frightening figures with animalistic, skeletal faces are draped in furs and skins as they approach the streets of Nain. They are greeted by community members with songs and wishes of a Happy New Year. Children who were good that year are met with handshakes and treats from the Nalujuit, while those who misbehaved are chased through town by the fearsome beings.
This long-celebrated tradition is a familiar subject for Labrador Inuk artist Jennie Williams, who previously captured the thrill of the night in a 12-year photographic series of the same name.
Jennie Williams Nalujuk Night (2021) (trailer) COURTESY NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
When asked why she decided to turn this story into a documentary, Williams explains, “In my exhibits, I would get tons of questions about what Nalujuk Night is and what it means, so I needed to be there to answer questions. By making it into a film, when people see it they can understand the tradition a little bit better.”
The 13-minute black-and-white documentary brings Williams’ still images and personal memories of Nalujuk Night to life, allowing viewers a glimpse into the exhilarating tradition seldom seen outside Nunatsiavut. These striking images are accompanied by drumming and throat singing by Williams herself.
After working on the film for four years, Williams travelled to Halifax, NS, for the premiere at the FIN Atlantic Film Festival. “I was really surprised, I wasn’t expecting [to win] with my first film at my first festival ever,” she says, when asked about her reaction to the Best Atlantic Short Documentary win. “I was so happy and so amazed. I just loved the whole experience so I do want to make more films about traditions and stories from Labrador.”
Ossie Michelin Evan’s Drum (2021) (still) Film, 14 minCOURTESY NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA
Nalujuk Night (2021) is one of four films produced for the Labrador Doc Project (Lab Doc Project) by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), which aims to tell Inuit stories from Inuit perspectives while working with first-time filmmakers from Nunatsiavut and Labrador. Another film in the Lab Doc Project, Evan’s Drum (2021) by Ossie Michelin, tells the story of an adventurous young boy and his determined mother who share a passion for Inuit drum dancing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, NL. The film, which features Jennie Williams in a supporting role as the drum teacher, also premiered at the FIN Atlantic Film Festival. The two remaining films in the Lab Doc Project, created by Heather Campbell and Holly Andersen, respectively, will be launching in 2022.
This October, both Nalujuk Night (2021) and Evan’s Drum (2021) will go on to be screened at the Vancouver International Film Festival in British Columbia and the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, ON. Nalujuk Night (2021) will also be featured at the Festival nouveau cinéma in Montreal, QC, and the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival in Newfoundland.