John Walker explores Nunavut’s origin story

"This is a very Canadian story, an epic Canadian story," the veteran doc maker tells Playback of his latest film, Arctic Defenders.
Arctic Defenders - John Walker

“Don’t get too close to the icebergs. They’re dangerous,” director John Walker’s Inuit guide says in his latest film, Arctic Defenders.

Minutes later, the director and his crew hear a loud cracking noise. It’s the sound of the 30-storey icebergs in front of them as they come crashing down into the water, narrowly missing the Arctic Defenders film crew. And for veteran filmmaker Walker, it was an incident that illustrates what he believes humanity needs to learn from the Inuit peoples of Canada – listen, learn, and respect Mother Nature, or else.

Announced this week, Arctic Defenders – which Walker wrote, directed and narrated – is set to open the Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival in Toronto in November. And as much as the film reveals Canada’s endangered Arctic landscape, it also sheds light on one generation’s efforts to achieve sovereignty in the Arctic through the creation of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut, in 1999.

“This is a very Canadian story, an epic Canadian story that Canadians are not aware of, the role that Inuit people have played and continue to play in our North and the contributions they have made to Canada,” Walker told Playback at the PIF opening presser Tuesday.

In the film, Walker highlights the Inuit people who fought to bring about self-government from the early 1950s to the present, negotiating a land claim with the Canadian government for a territory that is equal to the size of western Europe.

“These were young visionary Inuit who took the challenge to preserve their language, their culture, their heritage, negotiated the largest land claim in western civilization and created a new territory and a new government. It’s a huge story, that’s very inspiring to people. It proves that all it takes is patience, tenacity and a willingness and belief in your culture and heritage and you can pull off incredible achievements,” he added.

Arctic Defenders includes photographs, interviews and recollections from Walker’s first trip to Resolute Bay (including the one shown here of him at the age of 16) and his return to the region for subsequent films such as Passage – a docudrama about the ill-fated voyage of Sir John Franklin and his 128 member crew who perished in the Arctic while trying to search for the Northwest Passage.

Walker told Playback one of the key mistakes the crew of the Franklin expedition made was refusing to take Inuit guides with them on their journey. If they had, he said, their fate might have been completely different. Passage was made with the NFB and broadcast on the BBC and the History channel.

Arctic Defenders has been travelling the festival circuit, including netting best Atlantic feature at the AFF in September. It was made with support from the Canada Media Fund, Film Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Film Industry Tax Credit, Rogers Telefund, SuperChannel, Canal D, Isuma TV, the NFB, the Adventure Canada tour company, First Air and the Bell Fund.