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Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner

by Gillian Robinson, ed.

The Inuit-made film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner gains much of its power from documentary verisimilitude, to say nothing of the unforgettable image of a naked man running for his life over a vast ice floe. But what finally makes the film so compelling is its blistering humanity.

The film’s success – it won top awards at Cannes and has played long commercial runs in Europe and the States – will ensure an audience for this well-rendered printing of the original screenplay. The large-format book has the left hand pages printed entirely in Inuktitut, the right side in English, with wellplaced colour photos from the film throughout. Informative sidebars on various aspects of Inuit life are provided, along with maps, a chronology, a glossary, and suggestions for further reading. A lucid ethnographic essay by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, a professor of anthropology, ably explores Inuit culture, notably the shamanistic tradition.

Screenplays don’t often fully please a reader, and some of the film’s astonishing power goes missing here. There is still much to enjoy in the script. The screenwriter Paul Apak constructed his reworking of the epic myth of Inuit brothers wronged by another family from eight different versions told to him by elders. It was translated into English by Norman Cohn, the film production team’s gifted cinematographer and lone non-Inuit.

The book also includes a letter to d’Anglure from anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss on the film. Levi-Strauss wrote that myth is itself a language, that it must be told in order to exist, and this idea subtly suffuses the construction of this unique book.


Reviewer: Nik Sheehan

Publisher: Coach House Books


Price: $47.95

Page Count: 240 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 1-55245-114-3

Issue Date: 2003-1

Categories: Art, Music & Pop Culture