As a supplement to our first issue dedicated entirely to the cinemas of the First People, Panorama-cinéma magazine proudly presents this double bill, which includes Zacharias Kunuk’s The Journals of Knud Rasmussen and an online exclusive: Óscar Catacora’s Wiñaypacha.
Our first issue about indigenous cinemas underlines one of the essential traits of its corpus, which allochthonous and Euro-centric thought frequently overlooks: the plurality of the perspectives, traditions and aesthetics that constitute indigenous art. Be it through ignorance or foolishness, institutional analyses tend to homogenize indigenous cinemas, as if they originated from one single source – the monolithic Others, which we address only through our prior knowledge thereof, that is the oppression we inflicted (and still inflict) upon them. Wiñaypacha (2017) and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006) address similar themes of dereliction, crumbling traditions and modernity through the languages specific to each of their subjects’ people — aymara in the former, inuktitut in the latter. Nicolas Renaud’s analysis brilliantly captures the breadth of such an artistic choice in Catacora’s film, which also applies to Kunuk’s feature. Subtitles allow us to make sense of what the characters say, but we must transcend documentary curiosity to capture the rich gamut of inflexions, rhythms, tonalities and extra-linguistic ramifications (like Journals’ vocal games and chants) through which the two languages shape our viewing experience. And so, despite flawed translations, we can start to feel the powerful links that bind them to their respective lands, 9500 kilometers apart from each other. On the one hand, at an altitude of 5000 meters, the Andean peaks and their rocky crags tear up the sky, with patches of snow and luxuriant pastures sprawling between the clouds; on the other, at ocean level, the icy ground extends to the horizon, hard and flat, forbidding to all vegetation. If rocky greys and snowy whites adorn each work, their proportions within the frame and their impact on the characters are distinct, not unlike the people’s clothing (wool for weaving; animal skins for wear) and their colours (bright pigments and dyed fabrics; the earthy tone of leather and furs), the domesticated animals (lamas and sheep; sled dogs) and the food (quinoa and coca leaves to chew on for warding off hunger; the fruits of the hunt). The fact that Catacora’s lengthy static shots clash with the jittery ones from Kunuk’s handheld camera also seems perfectly natural.
Only after considering the wealth of differences between each of the First Nations can one begin to grasp their films and to appreciate the true value of indigenous filmmakers’ endeavour: to celebrate the richness and singularity of their nations while addressing the crisis faced by their traditions and their lands by reappropriating a cold, mechanical medium ingrained in the very Western modernity that caused so much damage to their cultures. The wound described by André Dudemaine is perceived, to one degree or another, through the whole of this production. It is to celebrate both the commitment and coherence required by this approach that we present the Panoptique’s new double bill, rendered obvious through the dichotomies that simultaneously divide and unite Wiñaypacha and The Journals of Knud Rasmussen.
Encompassing our will to highlight the diversity amongst First People, the painting selected to illustrate the program, created by Ojibwe artist Joshua Mangeshig Pawis-Steckley from the Wasauksing nation (Ontario), suggests a different spirituality from those featured in the two films. Embracing the Woodlands style characteristic of the people from the Great Lakes, it depicts Nanabush, a shapeshifting trickster whose origins, function and name similarly vary from one Anishinaabe nation to the other. In Pawis-Steckley’s version, this Godlike entity, glimpsed at the moment of metamorphosis, has been sent to earth to teach humans how to lead a good life.