For Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, there are few subjects as delicate as that of the seal hunt. It is a position fundamentally misunderstood by critics, who have carefully crafted anti-sealing narratives over the last forty years. These discourses have forced us to look more closely at the hunt, and this reckoning led us to understand that it was never simply about the preservation of a seasonal economic system but about the expression of sovereignty. In recent years, this idea has been taken up in films such as Anne Troake’s My Ancestors Were Rogues and Murderers (2005), Sarah Abel’s A Traditional Seal Hunt in Nunatsiavut (2009) and Bruce Alcock and Paton Francis’ 54 Hours (2014).
Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk is the first film to explore the topic from the vantage of Nunavummiut. Shot over a period of roughly six years, the film tells two stories. The first follows the Nunavummiut attempt to initially block and then overturn the 2010 European Union ban on importing Canadian seal products, led by lawyer, advocate and sealskin seamstress Aaju Peter. The second follows Arnaquq-Baril’s own advocacy work, made famous through the #sealfie campaign. Both stories propel one another. The indifference and cautiousness that define the European response to Peter and her team is thrown into relief by the pathological avoidance by animal rights groups to communicate with Arnaquq-Baril and the bloodthirstiness of their supporters. Serving as both subject and filmmaker, Arnaquq-Baril mediates this spectrum of violence. We see its effects upon her on screen and feel it in the rhythm of the film.
Director of Photography Qajaaq Ellsworth understands this tension. With so much material from so many sources— Skype calls, news broadcasts, YouTube clips and archival footage—the images he composes ground the hunt and Inuit who engage with it along local and communal lines. Most striking is his work at the top and bottom of the film, depicting Arnaquq-Baril and her extended family seal hunting near the community of Kimmirut. In stark contrast to the tightly packed and symmetrical frames of bureaucracies going about their work of shutting down the hunt, he long shots, wide angles and deep colours of the Kimmirut scenes reinforce that the beautiful and vast Inuit Nunangat is the site of a hunt that is logical, common and entirely Inuit.
The particular strength of Angry Inuk comes from the film’s close proximity. It is also the source of a rhetorical limitation, common to contemporary seal hunt advocacy. Angry Inuk examines the significance of the Inuit commercial hunt in decidedly globalized terms. But as we who continue the hunt have learned, expressions of local sovereignty over any practice of the hunt are not enough. The task remains to create a united front against such ignorant and brutish opposition.
This is a review from the Fall 2016 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.