Tautuktavuk (What We See)
(Canada, 82 min.)
Dir. Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk
Programme: Discovery (World Premiere)
Sisters Saqpinak and Uyarak speak almost daily. Nearly 2700 kilometers separate them, but like many families during COVID lockdowns, they learned to bridge the gap via Zoom. The elder Saqpinak (Carol Kunnuk) lives in Igloolik, Nunavut, while the younger Uyarak (Lucy Tulugarjuk) is in Montreal. The latter left home following difficult circumstances and found herself down South for longer than anticipated when the world shut down. But through technology, the sisters find a uniquely intimate space. The distance inspires them to open up. Isolation triggers painful memories. And by reminding each other of the power of their community at a time when they’re apart, old wounds eventually heal.
Tautuktavuk (What We See) blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction as it harnesses the Inuit focus on the collective. Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk, both veterans of the Inuit film scene, make a unique collaboration of dual perspectives. Sharing the roles of directors, writers, and stars, they craft a story of sisterhood that isn’t autobiographical, but draws on everyday experiences and their comfort working with one another over the years. Both starred in Zacharias Kunuk’s The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006) while Kunnuk previously directed the documentary Attagatuluk (2001) and Tulugarjuk helmed the drama Tia and Piujuq (2018) with both having numerous credits on pretty much every prominent Inuit production. With Tautuktavuk, they look at their community under lockdown and provide a unique time capsule of this strange period.
A COVID-19 Time Capsule
Up North, Saqpinak cares for her grandchildren, cooks meals, and alternates shopping duties with her husband. Down South, Uyarak makes the best of her new life, shares an apartment with her daughters, and joyously gets some Inuit tattoos. Day by day, the sisters converse. They address one another warmly, using “Big Sister” and “Little Sister” as respectful terms of endearment. Gradually, though, loneliness hits Uyarak. The violence that inspired her to leave Igloolik triggers murky memories of past trauma. Saqpinak plays therapist. She offers an empathetic ear, yet keeps secrets to reveal when they’re finally together.
The conversational conceit of Tautuktavuk eases the story into the space between fiction and non-fiction. These two women are indeed separated by distance and communicate via new technology. COVID-19 enters the frame, particularly in Saqpinak’s storyline as the delayed arrival of the virus, brought by settlers, inspires frustration and masking fatigue. People simply don’t want to be isolated because some folks from the South arrive sick.
Beyond capturing the daily frustrations of living amid COVID-19, actions of everyday life fill the film’s episodic nature. Carol joins community members as they gather to sing and play drums. Her husband receives a permit to hunt and provide for the community. Little by little, the nuisance of lockdown life inspires a community to revive traditions and customs that were fading away.
Film as Therapy
The narrative set-up eventually dissolves into the documentary aesthetic. These are real stories and true experiences that simply need a film to find catharsis. When the “sisters” eventually reconnect, emotions run high as the film tackles violence of colonialism, but also the increase in domestic violence that occurred when COVID-19 forced couples inside for prolonged times.
Driven with a fine eye for the cadence of daily life and a sincere effort to explore domestic spaces, often through the seemingly limited perspective of a webcam, Tautuktavuk (What We See) is a smartly feminist tale of shared resilience. This is a film of quiet power about the sense of community that unites us no matter how far we may be physically apart.
Tautuktavuk (What We See) premieres at TIFF 2023.