One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk

twitter threads, Indigenous film

Watched 《One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk》 by Zacharias Kunuk (the Inuk director famous for making Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner).

(Link to Twitter thread)

The film shows an encounter between Inuit camp leader Noah Piugattuk (Apayata Kotierk) and an Indian Agent (Kim Bodnia) who visits … in 1961 to pressure them to give up their traditional way of life and relocate to the government settlement of Igloolik”

The film is largely a long conversation between these two men, but the entire conversation is mediated by Evaluarjuk (Benjamin Kunuk) who is working for the government agent (referred to throughout as Boss”) as a translator.

Two key themes in the film are: (a) the difficulty of translating Indigenous notions of sovereignty into the language of the Westphalian nation-state, and (b) the difficulty of translating Indigenous theories of value into the language of capitalism.

These are both issues I’ve thought a lot about the past few years, as well (influenced by my friend Darryl Sterk) the issue of translation more generally. The role of the translator is key to the film, as his incomplete or mistranslations often seem to frustrate both sides.

I would really like to have someone who is an expert on the topic go over the script and analyze each of his translations. Sometimes he seems to be softening words that would be impolite. Other times he seems to struggle with concepts that don’t translate easily. Etc.

Without more knowledge of the language and culture I feel that a lot of important context is lost. Yet that feeling is also part of what makes the film work so well. Everyone is frustrated by the conversation, which seems to go nowhere.

There are also other cases where what the audience does know (or at least should know by now) heightens the tension even further, such as talk about the benefits of schooling for the Indigenous children.

It seems that there was no formal script for the film, although I imagine that the scenes were workshopped and rehearsed multiple times before filming. The performances by the three main actors are what ultimately carry the film, which feels more like theater than cinema.