The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
“ All true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of men, in great solitude; and it can only be obtained through suffering.”
The raw wilds of the Canadian Arctic have the power to quiet the mind; its people have the power to open the soul. When Western missionaries arrived, this power shifted and sank beneath the ideals of Christanity. The Journals of Knud Rasmussen documents the subtle dissappearance of 4,000 years of traditional beliefs.
A largely Inuit cast tells the story as it unravels in the isolated, devastating beauty of the Nunavut wilderness. Based on the 1922 writings of the Danish-Inuit scientist Knud Rasmussen, the docu-drama takes place during his Fifth Thule Expedition. But the heart of the story is the strained relationship between a Shaman elder, Avva, and his headstrong daughter, Apak, as they struggle with the supression of their spiritual practices.
Its a story of the Inuit world after the fall- a world in which the tainting has already begun.
When Rasmussen and his team arrive, Avva is wary, having seen more than one of his contemporaries fall to the promises of a comfortable afterlife with Jesus. Avva is determined to resist, but his family begins to succumb to the good intentions of Rasmussen's team. Ultimately, the community forbids his practices, condemns his pagan ways, and the forfeiture of the Inuit's shamanistic connection to a very tangible spirit-world begins.
This process of cultural suppression provides endless fascination for the viewer. But rather than asking us to understand and identify with the Inuit world, thie directors nudge us to simply observe it, like the spirits who silently wander in and out of frame .
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen is a tragic picture of change, but the breath-taking cinematography gives a sense of hopefulness. It's a meditative film, quiet in nature, but moving nonetheless. If you find the storytelling a bit slow-paced, the scenery is enough to get your heart racing at break-neck speed.
Filmed in the languages of Danish, English, and Inuktitut, the story takes place in Nunuavut, Canada’s newest and largest territory. It separated officially from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999.
The area is, for the most part, uncommercialized. It's a vast land, with endless skies, ice-capped mountains, and wide-open tundra. The possibilities for adventure are endless. Polar expeditions, dog sledding, kayaking between ice flows, taming the rapids and extreme mountain hiking are all part of the adrenaline-filled experiences between man and nature.
The capital city of Iqaluit sits on Baffin Island, home to barren-ground caribou, polar bear, arctic fox, arctic hare, lemming and arctic wolf. The town itself has an Icelandic feel, and its distinct vibe drew The White Stripes to film their music video, “You Don't Know What Love Is” along its watery banks.
Most of Baffin lies above the Arctic Circle, leaving many of its communities subject to Polar Night and the Midnight Sun. The dramatic scenery of fiords make for an interesting place to go kayaking, and its also a good jumping off point for Arctic Char fishing.
Baffin Island is home to the territory's largest concentration of Inuit people. These Native Americans have a rich cultural heritage. While the Inuit originated in in Alaska, they moved east into Canada over 1,000 years ago. The creation of Nunavut is the result of the Inuit battle for a self-governed territory, and its name means “Our Land.”
The various national parks of Nunavut are proof of a deep desire to preserve. Around thirteen territorial areas are available for exploration. Take dog sleds out on the way to Qaummaarviit Park, or follow caribou and wolf tracks through the lush green valley of the Soper Heritage River. Considering the sometimes harsh and tempermental climate not to mention prolonged periods of darkness, the best times to visit are late spring and summer.
But no matter the time of year, one thing's for sure: an expedition in this remote Arctic wilderness is truly a religious experience.
“I see things more than my mind can grasp; and the only way to save myself from madness is to suppose that we have all died, and that this is part of another life.”
-Knud Rasmussen, 1922
Images Courtesy © Isuma Productions