portrait of children

The set

« It’s Christmas! The boxes are here! »

-July 6

Yesterday morning I arrived at the Nunavut Arctic College (where the Uvanga crew has rented out some rooms for rehearsing and placing equipment) to find production designer Mélanie Mcnicoll ecstatic. “It’s Christmas!” she said to me at the front door. I nodded confused, not sure what to make of it. “What do you mean?” I asked laughing before a pickup truck full of boxes parked in front of the college. “It’s Christmas, the rest of my equipment has arrived!” Her cargo had finally arrived. The thirty-odd boxes of lighting equipment also came on the same flight, so the crew was in high spirits.

After all the boxes had been carried in, I asked Mélanie how her preparations were coming along. She said it was pretty rushed for the first few days trying to get back on schedule, but that now they were right on track. “We hired another assistant to help carry our equipment, which has made everything faster and easier,” she said.

The past three days the crew visited the indoor locations in order to plan shot sequences, and discuss what kind of preparations must be made (setting up props and décor, lighting arrangements, etc.). This is necessary in order to concretize the team’s concepts of how the scene should be arranged according to the script. It also allows for adjustments to be made in the mise-en-scene, certain things that might have made sense it the script might have to be modified (adjusted, changed or even cut) according to the setting.

On the actor’s side, things are moving very well. The actors are quickly getting used to the English-Inuktitut script, and small group rehearsals have been extremely helpful. After the initial table read, they have been delving deeper into the script with detailed readings and practices. The older, more experienced actors like Madeline Ivalu and Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq have been providing great teaching to the younger, more inexperienced actors with fantastic results. Stay tuned for the next post, where I will have pictures from some of these practices.


Everyone is finally here! / Adjusting to life under the midnight sun

-July 4th

This is a long post. So I split it in two parts:


As I’m writing this I am looking out my front window to the street. After four beautiful days, fog covered the town once again. You could barely see 200 meters in front of you. Everyone got a little worried; the last two members of the crew, co-director of photography Felix Lajeunesse and actor Marianne Farley, were supposed to arrive in the evening.  Luckily by 3:30pm the fog dissipated and the evening flight from Iqaluit was not cancelled. Both members were warmly welcomed. Having the whole team finally together is definitely a morale boost, especially when there are still concerns about the missing equipment. “It is more important to have the whole team together than all the equipment.” Marie-Hélène told me. “Obviously we want the equipment but with the team all together we can figure out ways to adjust accordingly.” This means re-thinking the shooting sequence. Certain interior scenes the team wanted to film early on will have to wait until the lighting equipment arrives. Instead they will have to shoot more exterior scenes to compensate. This is adaptability, a quality so critical in an environment like this one, to be able to think quickly and modify your plans according to the barriers that come your way. The rest of the week will consist of re-planning the shooting sequence, re-visiting the filming locations, finishing off the set design, and rehearsing in smaller groups with the actors.  Shooting starts in five days.


Igloolik in the summertime is truly a magical place. The 24-hour daylight throws everyone off at first; it is confusing, your body doesn’t know how to react. You have energy at one in the morning and want to go out when you should be asleep. Well, many people don’t sleep at one in the morning. In summertime, children sleep during the day and play all through the night. The town is quiet in the morning, then gets busier in the early afternoon before becoming quiet in the evening again. Then, around ten or eleven at night, the town starts bustling again. All the kids are outside shouting and playing. People go out for walks in the beautiful midnight sunlight. You hear the hum of trucks and ATV’s on the gravel roads. You look out your window and it seems like it’s two in the afternoon, but its midnight! All of this is very exciting and you want to go out and experience it, but you have to go to sleep because work on the film starts early the next morning. So you close your blinds, hopefully they are strong enough to keep some of the light out and you try and sleep. It’s hard at first but one soon gets used to it. For those who are on a less tight schedule, it is truly a beautiful thing to live at night when the golden light shines on the town and the land around it.

Playing golf at the top of the world

Despite the early mornings, I always make sure to find time to take a midnight stroll, or else you really are missing out. More and more I am running into people I haven’t seen for years (seven years to be exact, the last time I was in Igloolik). Friends that now, like me, look completely different from when we were thirteen or fourteen years old. We are all adults now. People have jobs and responsibilities. Many have finished school, some have children. Sometimes we don’t recognize each other and then when it hits us we start laughing, surprised by how quickly time goes by and how fast people grow. In many ways these old connections are like making new ones. Kids can strike friendships so easily because it is simple, you just play together and be kind to each other and you are friends. The common interest is that of wanting to play and have fun. As you get older it can be a little trickier. So re-connecting with childhood friends you haven’t seen since you were a kid has its challenges. What united you before maybe can’t unite you now. Interests change, you have to find new ways of connecting. But at the same time you are not strangers, and remembering a time when you used to be close makes re-connecting that much easier. It brings a commonality to the equation, something that breaks the ice. And plus there is something about Igloolik, about the people that live here, that is so welcoming. People are extremely friendly and open. Everyone smiles. Little children playing in street who don’t know you come up to say hi and ask you who you are and what’s your name. They laugh and giggle and every time you run into them again they greet you smiling. Somehow I forgot about how friendly of a place this was. This warmth has made the return and re-connection I was nervous about so much easier. It is a comforting feeling to feel welcome, especially in a place that has always been close to your heart despite you being far away.

Making the most of the good weather, a family heads out camping

I might have veered off the movie track a bit (hence the splitting into two parts). I am sorry for my digressions, but I felt I needed to speak a little bit about my personal thoughts on this place. The grandeur of this landscape, islands and distant mountains popping out of a frozen sea that stretches to the horizon under the great blue sky all awash in a hue of golden light, leads to introspection.

The challenges of filming in the North

July 1, 2012

Happy Canada Day! The sun is out in Igloolik, the fog is gone, and everyone is happy to be getting to work! A large part of the Montreal crew arrived yesterday. They came with most of their equipment, which is too expensive and fragile to be shipped via cargo. Nevertheless, there was a lot of equipment that were sent by cargo. The fog that shrouded Igloolik all of last week paralyzed transportation. No plane could fly in for a week. Some of the crew and I experienced this (as mentioned in the last post, we left Iqaluit Friday instead of Tuesday as was planned). This set us all back. Virginie Cousineau, who is working on Uvanga’s side-project “Portrait of Children,” was hoping to arrange an info session on Saturday but had to postpone the event for a week because of the late arrival. Production Designer Mélanie Mcnicoll had planned to work with Artistic Director Susan Avingaq all of last week on designing the costumes, and setting up the interior locations.

“If everything had arrived on time, we could start setting up the locations, and the actors could practice in them.” Marie-Helene said. Instead they must wait for the design team to catch-up from their weather-induced delay. “Everything follows together. If we have to wait for one aspect of the production, it destabilizes the rest” she added.





In Igloolik Stéphane, Marie-Hélène, Madeline and the others were becoming restless. There was a lot of work to do, and waiting in limbo for crew to arrive was becoming frustrating. To add to this, nobody knew the status of the cargo. Because no plane was able to land all week, when the weather cleared on Thursday the priority of cargo flights went to food and other necessities for the town. Filming equipment came second. Some of the equipment has arrived, but many things have not arrived yet. For example, with one week left before the shoot, there are still some forty boxes of lighting equipment that hasn’t arrived. Working in a place where purchasing extra equipment is impossible, everything is dependent on the plane shipments. But such are the challenges of working in the North! The conditions are not conventional or controlled the way they are “down south.” There are so many factors you cannot control.

One must not get too disturbed when such things come-up, they are part of the unpredictability of the Arctic. They are inevitable and one cannot get too fazed by such disturbances if they want to succeed in this environment. The only thing you can control is how you react to the problems that arise.





**First picture: Artistic Director Susan Avingaq, Production Designer Mélanie Mcnicoll, and the rest of the design team hold a meeting to discuss the set design, wardrobe, and make-up and hair.**

**Second picture: Directors Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu go through the first group table read of the script with the main cast.**

**Third picture: Producer Stéphane Rituit holds a meeting with the technical crew from Montreal.**

Stuck in Iqaluit…

-June 28

We were supposed to arrive in Igloolik Tuesday but it’s Thursday and we’re still here. We tried flying in on Tuesday, the whole flight was through fog. I couldn’t see anything out the window up until we were right about to land. All of a sudden the fog cleared a bit and I was startled to see how close we were to the ground, like really close. And just as we were about to land the plane quickly reared back up and we climbed back into the clouds. It was a slightly nerve-wracking experience. The captain told us that the cloud ceiling was too low and it would have been to dangerous to land. So we flew to Clyde River, an hour and a half north of Igloolik, before fuelling up and returning to Iqaluit.

Returning to the hotel in Iqaluit with all our bags (Mélanie Mcnicoll, her daughter Éloise, Virginie Cousineau and I combined probably had close to twenty pieces of luggage) was demoralizing to say the least. And then there was the journey to the airport the following morning only to have our flight cancelled. As it stands now we fly in on Saturday, perhaps Friday if we get bumped onto an earlier flight. Everywhere we go we seem to run into people desperate to get to Igloolik; some have been waiting for over a week. The last plane that landed in Igloolik was last Wednesday. Even the taxi drivers know us now! Some of them have given us multiple rides from the airport, but with all the equipment we are carrying I think we are more infamous than famous… »Still here? » one driver said with a tired smile when he saw us leaving the airport yesterday, hesitating to take us and all our heavy luggage.

But we’re here, so we try and make the most of it. We walk around the city, trying to find interesting things to do. Or if not we just try to kill time. We visited a store filled with beautiful soapstone carvings. I’ve always been amazed by the skill involved in making those Inuit carvings. They make them out of giant, heavy blocks of soapstone which they polish until they become smooth like marble. The detail of some of them is breath-taking. And such fascinating forms! Anthropomorphic figures; animals hunting or drum-dancing, or metamorphic creatures, mixes of different animals, or humans transforming into animals. Some of these sculptures are three or four feet tall, and can be worth over $10,000 dollars. Today it is really sunny and warm, so we took a long walk to a hill in town which afforded an absolutely stunning view despite the clouds of mosquitoes.

Iqaluit is a strange place. It is significantly bigger than any other town in Nunavut. The other communities have populations that ranging from 2,500 to 300, but Iqaluit has a population of nearly 7,000. It is also one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Mainly due to a big increase in mineral exploration in Nunavut. Iqaluit is booming, and people come from around the world to work here. This means that in this relatively small Inuit community you find Africans, East Indians, Turks, Bosnians, Brazilians, immigrants from around the world who come to Canada for work and go to Iqaluit, hearing that there are lots of employment opportunities. Some of them have seen nothing else of the country. And so little communities are formed; people stick together. Some feel like Iqaluit is less friendly and welcoming than the smaller towns because of it. Plus there is an incredible amount of money in Iqaluit, and a big discrepancy between the rich and poor. You see this division as you walk though the streets of the city. This money also brings about problems, especially drug and alcohol-related. Listening to the stories of taxi drivers there, I realized how rough Iqaluit can be. The local Inuit population still goes out on the land, but there are a lot of people who live here for work purposes only and never go hunting or camping. This can lead to a feeling of entrapment.

Iqaluit is an odd mix, a rapidly developing city where the modern mixes and clashes with the traditional. But this is far from all bad; there are a lot of very interesting people living in Iqaluit doing interesting things. This mix of peoples and cultures has the potential to make great things happen in that town. But there is no doubt that it is a very different place than the smaller, more remote communities of the North.


Less than two weeks left!

Welcome to the Uvanga blog! This is the first post. I am currently in Iqaluit, capital of Nunavut. Population 6,699. Tomorrow we leave for Igloolik, a two-hour flight from Iqaluit.

Everyone is excited to get settled in and start the shoot. Today I talked to Mélanie Mcnicoll, production designer for the movie, about the some of the work she has to do in the next week. She said there was still things to do in order to prepare the houses they will film in. This includes clearing out the areas of the house that will be used in the film. She explained to me how you always want the rooms you will shoot in to be basic and quite empty, because it looks better and evidently makes it easier for the cast and crew to move around freely. She also mentioned the challenge of working on the street during the day, with all the dust and noise from trucks and ATV’s passing by on the dirt roads. “It will be loud,” she said, “but I doubt we’ll be closing a street. I think Marie-Hélène is going for a somewhat documentary feel when it comes to things like that, to make it as realistic as possible.”

We were supposed to leave Iqaluit tomorrow at 2h30pm, but because flights to Igloolik have been cancelled in the past few days (caused by bad weather and fog), there will be two flights going to Igloolik tomorrow. This is in order to get fly in all the people who have been stuck in Iqaluit for the past few days. Because of this we have been bumped to the first flight, which is at 7h30am. This is very exciting because it means we will be in Igloolik in time for a 10am breakfast!! Now let’s just hope the weather cooperates…