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  • Articles by Sonali

    Documentary review: Angry Inuk


    Set in the remote hamlet of Kimmirut, Canada, in the icy Arctic Circle, the film Angry Inuk (2016) looks at the lives of the Inuit people, following the trade ban on harp seal skin products (campaigned for by animal rights activists in 1987).

    The film controversially opposes this ban because its had a negative effect on the Inuit's livelihood. The documentary is part of the Origins Festival in London (10-25 June), presenting a series of stories from the perspective of indigenous peoples. It’s written and directed by Inuk activist Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.

    The narrative begins in 2008. We’re given an insight into the Inuit way of life which is full of contrasts. They’re on facebook and their homes are fitted with modern appliances but they also hold on to their traditions: one of which is seal hunting. Alethea accompanies a group of Inuit men on a hunting expedition. This is a matter-of-fact account of how the animal is shot, skinned and dismembered which isn’t for the squeamish but it reveals how every bit of the seal is used, down to the intestines.

    We’re told that eating seal meat is intrinsic to their cultural heritage, eaten raw or boiled up. The pelts are then sold on.

    We meet Aaju Peters, an activist, lawyer and sealskin clothes designer. She makes shawls, jackets and gloves from seal pelts and sells these items to international buyers. Aaju discussed the damaging effect of this ban although subsistence hunting by Inuit is exempt. Basically, wearing items made from seal fur is taboo now and its market value has fallen considerably. The film uses graphs and symbols to help explain the point. The Inuit hunting community is struggling to cope with the loss of income and morale is at an all time low. They need the ban to be lifted.

    The motivation of the anti-sealing campaigners is also questioned. In 2009 Alethea and Aaju lead a small team of Inuit to the EU Parliament in Strasbourg to challenge a new blanket ban on all seal skin products. The new ban attests to the vociferousness of the animal rights groups. By contrast, the response and anger of the Inuit has always been understated or ignored.

    What’s more, we see how this campaign is misleading. They continue to use the image of a seal cub as an emblem or ‘charismatic megafauna’ to drum up donations and celebrity endorsements. The fact is ‒ seals are not an endangered species. The campaigners were invited to participate in the film and visit Inuit community in Kimmirut but refused on both counts. The film could have used their input.

    Nonetheless, this mishmash of formats, part nature documentary, part exposé and impassioned plea, holds together, even if feels a tad homespun at times. 

    It does feel overlong though. The story lags, especially during the second half, mainly because the team from Kimmirut struggle to communicate with the EU parliamentarians, recommending humane hunting methods and quotas instead of a blanket ban.

    On a more positive note, we hear Greenpeace have since apologized to the Inuit for the impact their campaign has had on them. Also the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) want the Inuit to join an Arctic Circle Guardianship programme. They will act as advisors to the region.

    The film, which goes against the zeitgeist, will no doubt help to raise awareness of this complex and nuanced issue.  And, whatever one’s views on commercial seal hunting, it does seem ironic and unjust that the actions of animal rights organizations have contributed to the decline of an indigenous community.

     


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