A harrowing story of brutality, kidnapping and revenge, shot entirely in the Artic and in the Inuktitut language.
Set in Nunavut circa 1913 and based on the plotline of John Ford's classic 1956 western The Searchers, Zacharias Kunuk's new film Maliglutit (Searchers) presents another variation on what could be described as a universal story: a family shattered by brutality, and a father's determined attempt to seek vengeance.
The film opens with a claustrophobic interior shot: an igloo where two groups from different communities gather around a seal-oil lamp: a family unit of six, and three visiting male hunters. Tensions arise when one of the hunters makes advances to one of the family's women, and after accusations are hurled, the hunters are banished from the igloo, and angrily depart.
The following day the father and his son leave their igloo to hunt cariboo. While they are absent the banished hunters return; they break into the igloo and attack the family, killing two and kidnapping both of the women. When the father returns to the scene of the attack with his son, his approach is photographed from the igloo's interior, looking out, the returning sled framed by the jagged opening, in a shot that echo's Ford's dramatic opening and closing shots in The Searchers.
In the Q&A which followed the screening Kunuk spoke of the difficulties he and his crew had encountered during filming (which took place over a mere 21 days in March of this year), with the outside temperatures hovering around minus 47 degrees.
Kunuk also talked of how he came to use John Ford's The Searchers as an inspiration, rather than drawing on stories from band elders as he'd done with Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. He mentioned the dramatic effect upon himself and his small community when TV finally arrived there in 1983, an event that exposed him, at age 25, to the same cultural influences (including a deluge of Hollywood films) experienced by most of us at a much younger age.
What is interesting about Kunuk's take on John Ford's film is how the element of racism has essentially been eliminated without diluting the power of the story. As Kunuk put it, his protaganist at one point cries out "What kind of person would do something like this?", where Ford's character would have asked "What kind of savage would do such a thing?"
Maliglutit (Searchers) is a powerful film, right up there with Atanarjuat. You can watch a teaser trailer for the film here.
There are no more screenings scheduled for Maliglutit (Searchers) as part of this year's VIFF, but watch for its return in general release.