Making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival is There’s a House Here, the latest work from the Canadian documentarian Alan Zweig. The movie covers multiple trips to Nunavut, where his long-time buddy Tatanniq Idlout (a.k.a. Inuit stone musician Lucie Idlout) was his unwilling manual.
The Globe and Mail talked to Zweig (whose films explore the worlds of ex-convicts, Jewish comedians and the what-ever-happened-to Steve Fonyo) about an outsider’s trip to a Northern civilization where he did not feel he belonged.
Your film is named There’s a House Here. Would you talk about the true experience of entering people’s homes in Nunavut with a cameraman?
Well, here is something that was not expressed in the movie. On our second day, my cameraman asked a girl if he could use the bath. Tatanniq Idlout, or Lucie Idlout, the movie’s subject, got angry at him and said, “Look, do not ask. Just use it. In Nunavut, we do not knock. We walk into people’s homes we go make a cup of tea, we sit down next to them and watch TV, and we depart.” She did this, and if we were with her we were supposed to do that. Sometimes, however, we would ask, “Is this okay?”
Sometimes it was not okay, right?
Yeah. That is the weird part. A woman at the start asks why we were there. So, the “just walk in” thing, I never got used to that. I felt like a polite Canadian. Sometimes, I felt like an outsider. I mean, I knew I had been.
You asked a girl how you could assist her. In a sense, you are representing Canada, are not you?
You can make a meal from that question. It’s complicated. They want us to leave them alone and let them take care of the problems. But they need help. I wasn’t really making a movie about how we could help them, however. When I asked her about helping, I mean that I personally wanted to know. I was sort of intimidated at the moment, though. I was nervous. I had been considering making this film for a while. And then I get there and all of a sudden this “be careful what you wish for” thing came crashing in on me. What was I doing there?
It was a legitimate question from them, however, asking why you’re there, is not it?
I really don’t have agendas with my movies. The people in Nunavut were asking me what my picture is all about. I don’t tell my broadcasters what my movie’s are about, let alone my interview subjects.
You have a reputation for taking on tough interview topics. Can you find Lucie to be tough?
I don’t believe my standing for that is justified. But anyhow, Lucie was someone I met on Facebook. She saw my picture I, Curmudgeon, and she wrote that she associated with it. That she was a crusty personality. I got to know her on the telephone.
You hit it off and, yet, there were tense moments with her in the movie.
Right. She called me on the telephone yesterday. She explained we get along fine together. I said, “Yeah, because we are not making a movie together now.” While we were in Nunavut, I wanted to co-operate. While we were filming, I had to inform her when she had been in my own way, and that this was serious.
Was she cautious?
Sure. I was making a movie, and when I awakened her people, she would get in more trouble than I would. She was worried I was going to do a hatchet job. The Inuit have a feeling that hatchet jobs have been made previously. Lucie trusted me, but she was scared. We had this antagonism.
Lucie’s experience has to do with living in two worlds. Lucie Idlout, the indie-rock musician who lived in Toronto, and Tatanniq Idlout, who currently lives in Nunavut. There appears to be a struggle there.
She had been too young for the residential schools. But she did have a similar experience, with foster parents. They told her it’d be helpful for her to lose her civilization. And she had been told she could not be completely Canadian or fully Inuit. She was told she would never be either.
Despite her distinctive story, in many ways, she was representing the Inuit in the movie, was not she?
Lucie makes it very clear that there’s not any such thing as a normal Inuk. Because she is not a standard Inuk. And yet, she’s a story that’s as central to the Inuit story as could be. She had a grandfather, Joseph Idlout, the renowned Inuit hunter on the back of the $2 bill. He was wealthy and successful. Then he had been relocated. He drove a Ski-Doo off a cliff. What more ideal Inuit story could there be?
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail