Marie-Hélène Cousineau formed the collective Arnait Ikajurtigiit (Women’s Video Workshop, now Arnait Video Productions) in Igloolik, Nunavut, in 1991. She is its coordinator/trainer as well as an active collaborating producer. Cousineau has written about the experiences of women making video in Igloolik and curated several exhibitions of their work. Her video work has been widely exhibited in Canada, the U.S and Europe. With an MFA in Communications from University of Iowa, Cousineau was also associate professor of Communications at Concordia University in Montreal (1997-1999). She co-directed Before Tomorrow and Uvanga, the first and second Arnait feature-length films, with Madeline Ivalu. Uvanga screens in London at ORIGINS: Festival of First Nations on 11 June, 2015.
There are zero daycare centres or babysitters. I realised quickly that we were working with children around us all the time – so we had to integrate that.
Can you tell us about your journey into filmmaking?
When I moved to Igloolik I was already pregnant with my eldest son, and a lot of the women had their children at home. There are zero daycare centres or babysitters. I realised quickly that we were working with children around us all the time – so we had to integrate that. We had to integrate the difficulties of being able to work, or sometimes having sick kids and needing to care for them, it’s not something you can get impatient with. People come to the office, and of course they bring their children. If they didn’t, you would wonder what’s going on. So that became part of working in the office every day.
People come to the office, and of course they bring their children. If they didn’t, you would wonder what’s going on.
What about on set?
On the shoot for Before Tomorrow, having children there was very complicated; you can’t have a baby starting crying. So we had a daycare: for Before Tomorrow, we hired someone to be the babysitter at the camp for the parents who had children, so we had someone taking care of children – feeding them, playing with them. We were sleeping in a tent for about three weeks. I was a single mother at the time, so I brought my niece to take care of my two children. I would get up at 7am, come back to the tent at 11pm at night and then everyone was asleep – or not – but I would fall asleep because I’m exhausted. But I’d see them at lunchtime because everyone on the shoot is eating together, it’s very communal. The children had to be there, I couldn’t leave them for seven weeks! Children were always a part of the work environment.
All three of Arnait’s feature films have children and young people as protagonists: how do you go about working with the young non-professional performers?
Because of Isuma and Arnait, young people in Igloolik are around the filming process, so they observe a lot. They’re not shy, they get to know the team, they get to know the technicians. They see how the performers are observing others who are acting, and they see how people are teaching each other. Inuit are very patient in general, and they like to teach young people through joking. Madeline [Ivalu, co-director and star of Before Tomorrow] was great with her grandson [Paul-Dylan Ivalu, who plays Maniq, grandson of Madeline’s character Niniuq] on Before Tomorrow – but we had a coach as well, because she’s his grandmother. If he was mad with her, sometimes he didn’t want to act. Kids were always around, in the film and outside the film.
Young people in Igloolik are around the filming process, so they observe a lot. They’re not shy, they get to know the team.
Will young people continue to be central to your filmmaking?
I’m making a documentary in Montreal, following children in a school for five years. It’s in a very mixed neigbourhood – there’s about 100 languages spoken in this school, with immigrants from all over the world. There’s a music program, and I’m following the participants for five years through high school. It’s been about a year and a half and there’s a long way to go.
And we’ve just finished a demo for a TV series, Elisapee’s Cooking Show, it would be a cooking show for children [Ed.: including a recipe for Inuit ice cream made with caribou fat]. Actually, I’d like to do films for kids! I’m thinking of writing another film for children, a feature; and another feature that’s not for children – but it will have a child in it.