Qimmit: A Clash Of Two Truths

Qimmit: A Clash Of Two Truths


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

It's a tough life up in the Arctic Circle; this much, most people know. But life without dogs is tougher still. For centuries, huskies enabled the indigenous people of the region to travel, hunt and carve out a living on the ice. So when, between 1950 and 1970, as many as 20,000 dogs disappeared, the population was plunged into crisis. Where did they go? Was disease responsible? The Inuit accused the Canadian government of a planned dog slaughter intended to force their people into settlements, but Mounties who worked in the area strongly deny it. Who is telling the truth? A new commission has been set up to investigate, and this documentary follows the process.

Whilst the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Inuit may present difficulties, at least it enables people to make a living. There is little work in the grim Newfoundland settlements and the people end up living on welfare. Naturally, they're worried. Anger and resentment is passed down the generations against a historical backdrop of racism. The Canadian government wanted to help by making sure children got an education and everybody could receive healthcare, yet it pushed forward these measures on its own terms, showing little consideration for the impact they would have on the Inuit way of life. Similar tragic misunderstandings operated on a smaller scale. Because huskies sometimes attacked people in settlements, ordinances were passed ordering that they be chained up. Loose dogs were shot. Police officers often didn't understand that, to the Inuit, these dogs were family members; or that many of them simply couldn't afford chains.

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More than just a clash of truths, this story is a microcosm for a clash of cultures. In telling their stories the Canadian officials rely on documents, historical records kept in filing cabinets. The Inuit rely on stories, memories carefully passed along through emotive oral communication. Each side is beginning to understand and respect the other's methods but it's a huge gulf to cross. Of course, details can be lost in storytelling. Just so, individuals who break the rules may never be visible in official records. There is a sense that, in coming together, these two cultures have the chance to develop a much richer picture of their history than either could alone, but it is a history filled with pain.

As an observational film documenting the work of the commission, Qimmit works very well. Also interesting is the fact it has been made by young Inuit people raised in Canadian schools, using what they have learned to explore and reconnect with their cultural past. Visually it is less evocative but it does capture something of the beauty as well as the harshness of the Arctic. Perhaps most interesting, it positions film as a medium through which document-based record keeping and narrative accounts can come together in a form accessible to both cultures, preserving these stories for posterity.

Reviewed on: 28 Jan 2011
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An exploration into the mystery of sled dog disappearances in the Arctic, believed by many Inuit to be an act of sabotage against their way of life.
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Director: Ole Gjerstad

Year: 2010

Runtime: 68 minutes

Country: Canada


Glasgow 2011

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