Since the 1960s, animal-rights activists have proclaimed that Canada’s seal hunt is barbaric, unethical, and unsustainable, without knowing how drastically these notions affect Inuit communities that depend on seals for food, clothing, and oil.
As a result, many have been misled to believe that Arctic seals are endangered or at risk. When the European Union voted to ban the sale of all seal products in 2010, the Inuit communities and their local economies took a major hit.
In Angry Inuk, Inuit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril discusses the consequences that have come with the hunt’s misrepresentation, and how those consequences have led to an increase in poverty in a region that already has the highest poverty and unemployment rates in North America—particularly in Nunavut, where the film is set.
“How does a culture with an understated anger confront a group that is exactly the opposite?” Arnaquq-Baril asks early in the film. Though the E.U. ban makes an exception for Inuit and indigenous seal hunters—who deserve to trademark the culinary concept of “whole animal” use, as quite literally nothing goes to waste—the ban on commercial sales means that skins once sold by Inuit hunters to retailers around the world are no longer in demand. Value has dropped from $100 per skin to just $10.
While activists sell images of cute, furry seal pups and claim that they are the “victims of the largest marine mammal slaughter in the world”, the Inuit people struggle with the highest cost of living in the country, if not the continent: Arnaquq-Baril shows viewers a head of cabbage bearing a $28 price tag, a dozen cans of ginger ale priced at $82, and a jar of Cheez Whiz ringing in at $18, arguing that it’s far more affordable for Inuit to live off the land than to purchase groceries—not to mention more nutritious. (Seal contains more than 10 times the iron found in beef.)
The film follows Arnaquq-Baril and other Inuit activists to Europe, where they stand up for some 40,000 Inuit to representatives of a population of over 500 million.
While teams of hunters are still able to provide seal meat for entire communities, Arnaquq-Baril and others worry that without the volume of commercial sales, federal authorities will bring underwater seismic testing and drilling to the region to boost the local economy, something that could present a threat to marine life.
Passionately made and thorough in its inclusion of both research and traditional motifs, Angry Inuk challenges the idea that seals should be protected.
The film will screen as part of Beyond 150 Years: An Acknowledgement of Cinematic Territory, an event hosted in partnership with the Vancouver International Film Festival. Highlighting the impact of indigenous stories and the works of filmmakers from the REEL CANADA catalogue, the event leads up to National Canadian Film Day 150.
The event, offering free public screenings, artist talks, and presentations, will bring directors Alanis Obomsawin (Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance), Lisa Jackson (Highway of Tears), Amanda Strong (Four Faces of the Moon), and Arnaquq-Baril to the Vancity Theatre for Q & A events Monday and Tuesday (March 6 and 7).
Angry Inuk screens at the VIFF Vancity Theatre on Monday (March 6) at 7 p.m., with the director in attendance. For more info, visit www.viff.org/online/beyond150/.