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#18 - Top 100 Canadian Films

In the lead up to the 7th Canadian Film Festival in Australia (August 2012), join us as we countdown the Top 100 Canadian Films of the past 30 years. We'll be posting one film a day leading up to Canada Day on July 1st 2012. Do you agree with our team favourites? Let us know your thoughts!

#18 - Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner


The first feature ever shot in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit tribes of Northern Canada, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner won the 2001 Camera D’Or at Cannes for its stunning widescreen cinematography of the sprawling landscapes of Canada’s icy north.

But the film delivers much more than just a beautiful depiction of untouched nature. The script is based on an ancient Inuit legend - a Shakespearean tale of love and revenge catalysed by malignant supernatural forces unleashed by a shaman upon a sleepy Inuit village.

The village’s balance of power is upset when leader Kumaglak is killed in a spiritual duel with the shaman and power is passed to his son Sauri. Tulimaq, a powerful hunter, accuses Sauri of scheming to murder his own father and subsequently suffers a long streak of bad luck.

Tulimaq’s lifelong rivalry with Sauri is passed down the generations to his sons Amaqjuaq and Atanarjuat when Atanarjuat falls in love with Atuat, the bride-to-be of Sauri’s jealous son Oki. 

Atanarjuat beats Oki in a feat of strength and wins the right to marry Atuat, but their happiness doesn’t last long. After a string of interfamilial infidelities to rival the most sordid of John Ford’s tragedies, Oki vows to murder the two brothers, leading to a memorable barefoot-and-naked chase across the vast ice fields (check the trailer below for a glimpse).

Atanarjuat escapes, leaving Oki to commit all manner of rape and patricide, but he gets his comeuppance when Atanarjuat returns and, with the help of some hefty magic, rids the small community of its evil presence, personified in Oki and the shaman. Interestingly, the original myth ends in the revenge killing of Oki, but the film tempers this message for modern times, with Atanarjuat forgiving Oki his crimes.

Director Zacharias Kunuk has done an incredible job of flawlessly recreating Inuit culture pre-contact with Western civilisation, and the mostly-amateur cast are flawless, giving the film the feel of a documentary, rather than fiction.

Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was Canada’s top-grossing film in 2002, and deservedly so; it not only captures on film an authentic recreation of an almost-lost civilisation, but it’s also a ripping epic yarn about love, power and human struggle.

- Nick Jarvis

“A mythic drama of good versus evil...yet it's also an impressively vivid and detailed depiction of a particular way of life." Tom Dawson - BBC


To see the other films in the countdown so far, click here. 

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