Reclaiming Inuit culture with filmmaker Norman Cohn

On March 16, filmmaker Norman Cohn will present Igloolik Isuma and Kunuk Cohn Productions’ new feature film, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen. Based on a series of 1922 events in the Arctic that led to the replacement of shamanism with Christianity, the 2006 film addresses questions of identity and displacement that continue to inform Inuit life. Cohn will present this special screening at 1:30pm in the Price Family Cinema, 102 Accolade East, on the Keele campus. 

Left: Filmmaker Norman Cohn

Zacharias Kunuk, who is Cohn’s collaborator on the project, says the film "tries to answer two questions that haunted me my whole life: Who are we? And what happened to us?"

Cohn’s own position perhaps provides some insight into these complex conversations. Though he grew up in New York City, Cohn has helped to create an important space for Inuit to engage their heritage and reflect on their current society in relation to the past, by recreating specific events and representations of traditional Inuit life on film. Non-Inuit audiences and students also stand to learn much about Inuit tradition, culture and hardship through the level of awareness inherent to the Igloolik Isuma program, and the critical nature of the production.

Through work with the Igloolik Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), Cohn met Kunuk and the late Paul Apak. Dissatisfied with the non-Inuit, Ottawa-based governance of the IBC station, the three teamed together in 1990 to form Igloolik Isuma Productions, Canada’s first Inuit-owned film production company.

"Isuma", after all, means "to think", an action with effects unconstrained by boundaries of space, people or time. As Cohn’s own work on the Inuit demonstrates, one does not have to be Inuit to think about the problems this culture has faced, or to make a difference in dealing with the effects of their difficult and tumultuous past.

Perhaps the most recognized Igloolik Isuma production to date is the Nunavut (Our Land) series, a 13-part television drama that literalizes the memories and stories of surviving Inuit elders who grew up in the Arctic prior to government settlement. In recreating the nomadic lifestyle from "an Inuit point of view", contemporary Inuit actors portray life on the land in the 1940s, through the stories of five fictional families.

Visit for more information on Isuma Igloolik Productions. For more information, contact  Anna Hudson, York professor of visual arts, at

This article was submitted to YFile by Jenna Winter, an MA student in the graduate art history program at York University.