The Greatest films of all time: 85. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) (Canada)


At the dawn of the second millennium and the fall of cinema as an enlightening art medium, Hollywood fast and furious facilitated this by stupefying people by depicting sorcery and magic like in the dark ages with films such as “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” and “The Lord of the rings”. But at the same time around the world there has been a huge effort to survive this art medium. Through this endeavor, groundbreaking works of cinema such as “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” from the aboriginal Inuit first nation of Canada and “Kandahar” from Iran both for the first time showing the stories of two unknown worlds to a global audience.  

Zacharias Kunuk, the creator of “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner”, himself of the first nation was born in Kapuivik, one of Canadian arctic island in Nunavut territory of Canada. He attended school in Igloolik, an Inuit hamlet of Nunavut and in order to afford admissions to the movies, carved soapstone sculptures. From his hard work money, he purchased a camera and started taking photos of Inuit hunting scenes. Soon he purchased his first video camera with some basic equipment and taught himself how to make his own films, the first “Nunavut: Our Land” in 1995 before making his masterpiece “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” in 2001. The film in the 2004 edition of top 10 Canadian films of all time by Toronto International Film Festival, was voted the 5th greatest Canadian Film of all time and in the last edition of the list in 2015, was ranked the number one and the greatest Canadian film of all time.

An Arctic Epic:

The winner of Camera d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival and six Genie Awards including the Best Motion Picture became Canada’s top-grossing film of 2002. The first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in the Inuktitut language recites an ancient story of the aboriginals that until the film has been passed down through the centuries of oral tradition. In Igloolik off the Eastern Arctic wilderness at the dawn of the first millennium, the community have been poisoned by a shaman visitor Tungajuaq (Abraham Ulayuruluk) with hatred, infidelity and murders. During a spiritual duel with the shaman, the camp leader Kumaglak (Apayata Kotierk) dies and his leading sign of a walrus-tooth necklace around his neck is taken off and given to his son Sauri (Eugene Ipkarnak) as the new camp leader. The whole camp’s lives stricken by the evil magic of the shaman have been doomed. Tulmaq (Felix Alaralak) has bad luck in hunting and can barely feed his family with his two children, Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq) and Amaqjuaq (Pakak Innuksuk) but Panikpak (Madeline Ivalu) brings meat for his children, hoping that one day their lives will be back normal.

Atanarjuat grows up to be a fast runner and his brother Amaqjuaq grows to be strong. Atanarjuat pursues the beautiful Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu) provoking jealousy in his rival Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq). Oki’s sister Puja (Lucy Tulugarjuk) is also attracted to Atanarjuat. In a punching duel with Oki, Atanarjuat wins the right to marry Atuat. Later, Atanarjuat leaves his wife Atuat at a camp to hunt caribou, but he stops at Sauri’s camp where he is persuaded to take Puja on the hunt and when camping by a lake, they have sex. Later on Atanarjuat unhappy in his marriage with Atuat and Puja, catches his brother having sex with Puja and strikes Puja, who flees to Sauri’s camp and lies that Atanarjuat tried to kill her. Sauri and Oki decide to kill Atanarjuat, but since Panikpak is skeptical of Puja’s accusations, she admits to her false accusation and returns to Atanarjuat’s camp apologizing and she is accepted back.

When one day the women are out eggs hunting, Oki and two men sneak up and kill Amaqjuaq sleeping in his tent. Oki is startled by a vision of his grandfather Kumaglak, and Atanarjuat, naked and barefoot bursts out of the tent and runs for miles across the ice, chased by Oki’s gang. Atanarjuat jumps in a wide open crack of the ice and collapses, but rescued by Qulitalik (Pauloosie Qulitalik) the brother of Panikpak and his family, who conceal him when Oki arrives in pursuit. Back at Igloolik, Sauri refuses to let Oki have Atuat, but Oki rapes Atuat, who is comforted by Panikpak. During a hunt, Oki stabs Sauri and claims it was an accident, and takes over as camp leader.

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The Greatest films of all time: 85. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) (Canada)