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Interview with a Filmmaker: Myna Ishulutak

Myna Ishulutak is an Inuk filmmaker, radio host, artist, and cultural educator, living in Iqaluit, Nunavut. In this interview she tells us more about her recent films, what projects she has planned for the future, and why she loves travelling with Adventure Canada on our Arctic expedition cruises.
Myna ishulutak inuit hat landscape

© Stephen Gorman

Can you share a bit about who you are and what you do?

My name is Myna Ishulutak. I’m originally from Pangnirtung, Nunavut but I’ve been living in Iqaluit for a long time now. I work at CBC Radio here in Iqaluit. I’m a host, editor, and producer for an Inuktitut radio show called Tausunni. For many years I’ve travelled with Adventure Canada as an Inuit cultural educator and I teach our Inuit language, Inuktitut.

I’m also a seamstress; I make things like outfits, parkas, and winter clothing. And I’m a filmmaker. I didn’t always like saying that, but I’m starting to get more comfortable about it. What I like about filmmaking is having a vision and trying to make it real—not just talking about something, but seeing it, too.

Tell us a bit more about your latest film.

Tupiq is a fifteen-minute film that teaches about Inuit tents. In the film, my uncle Jaco shows me how to set up a tent out on the land. He shares his teachings about how to put it up for the wind and the weather. We recently showed it on CBC Igalaaq (an Inuktitut-language daily news program) and there was great feedback from people about how much they enjoyed the film.

As we were making it, I got more ideas from my uncle about other films to make. We are planning another one now to film next spring. My uncle is going to be the main character in the film, teaching his grandson how to survive if he was stuck out on the land. For example, if you are near a fishing area, but you have no fishing hooks, how would you survive? Where should you go fishing to respect the animals? It will kind of be like his life story.

Myna Ishulutak lights qulliq seal oil lamp

© Dennis Minty

Myna Ishulutak tends to a qulliq (an Inuit seal oil lamp) while Charlotte Edmunds watches.

What other projects do you have planned for the future?

The first film I ever made was called Tajarniit. It is a five-vignette film all about how important seals are to Inuit culture, and now I am planning to re-edit and digitize that project. At the time, I was going to film school in North Bay, Ontario at Canadore College. I wanted to learn about films and that college helped me so much. I studied about editing, producing, all the steps of making a film. But I was the only Inuk there and it was a big cultural shock. My food and my language are so important, so it was difficult for me to be in Ontario.

While I was studying, I was invited to a workshop with Nunavut Film in Iqaluit. At that workshop, I mentioned to some other women how shocked I was by a question my son had asked me. He had said, “Back then, were Inuit using qullit (seal oil lamps)?”

His question inspired me to create the film. I wanted to show how I grew up on the land—in a sod house, only using the qulliq, lit with the oil from seals. I wanted it to show how important seals are to Inuit culture—we can make a qajaq (kayak), a sealskin tent, use the oil in our lamps. If we didn’t have those animals, I don’t think we would survive in our cold place.

Tajarniit film still

© Myna Ishulutak

Tajarniit is a cultural and educational documentary series about the importance of seals to Inuit culture, currently seeking funding for reproduction.

The other women in the workshop encouraged me so much. We worked together and I was a co-director of the film. It was so great! We filmed more than sixty hours of footage, but we only had two weeks to edit the film together into the five vignettes. That was many years ago, and now I’ve been thinking, I want to make this better, longer, and more complete so that we don’t lose the precious knowledge stored in all the footage we collected.

Since that time, I’ve started working on films with another woman, Aïda Maigre-Touchet. She’s a wonderful, talented filmmaker. She does everything—editing, camera work, everything—and she’s willing to help me re-edit this to make it even better. I think it can be useful for anyone who wants to learn about Inuit culture, maybe even in schools or at visitors’ centres. My vision is to make it available before we lose all that great footage. It was filmed on small DV tapes, which will start to decay. So we are currently fundraising to digitize and re-edit our Tajarniit project.

Myna Ishulutak black and white

© Stephen Gorman

Myna Ishulutak, Heart of the Arctic expedition, 2011

What is it like for you to travel with Adventure Canada?

Adventure Canada is so supportive of artists, and not just filmmakers. We can sell our arts and crafts in the ship’s gift shop, and they also hold fundraising auctions on board the trips. When I worked with Aïda to make my second film, Qipisa, even though people were asking me to buy the movie, we didn’t have any money to produce it into DVDs or to show it in theatres. Through one of the auctions, they helped me fundraise for Qipisa’s distribution, so that’s how my second film became available. It’s so awesome how much they support people!

I love travelling with Adventure Canada because I meet many people from all over the world. I get to go to Inuit communities, not just in Nunavut, but also in Nunavik, Greenland, and Nunatsiavut. It’s always a learning experience. My strength is Inuktitut and I enjoy teaching so much—not just our language, but our whole culture. I’m a very easy, outgoing person and I love talking about our people, how strong they are. We put together Inuit games, teach sewing and craft workshops, share the language, go out on the land. They have a great team, great crew, and great guests—every year!