(Screen grab from Dominic Gagnon’s film, of the North)
APTN National News
An experimental documentary made entirely of found online videos depicting northern Indigenous peoples produced by a Quebec filmmaker is triggering outrage from a top Inuit artist who says the work is a “racist” reinforcement of stereotypes.
The 74-minute film, of the North, by Dominic Gagnon is a compilation of YouTube and porn videos depicting circumpolar peoples, including a large number of Inuit from Nunavut and Northern Quebec. The images are set against a wide-variety of music, including from internationally renowned artist Tanya Tagaq who has threatened legal action over the use of her work in the film.
“This one-sided, racist slight propagating violence and actual violence…disgusts me. I am fully out for blood,” said Tagaq, in an interview Tuesday with APTN National News. “I am an artist and, I am sorry, his art sucks. I do more than disrespect him, I discredit him with everything I have in my body.”
Tagaq is an internationally acclaimed artist whose last album, Animism, won the 2014 Polaris prize. Her throat-singing is also featured in the Matthew Barney art film, Drawing Restraint 9, which is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Tagaq’s legal representative has issued a cease and desist order against Gagnon over the use of her music which is now being removed from the film.
The images of Gagnon’s film alternate between snapshots of Arctic landscape, industrial machinery, military exercises, inebriated Inuit men vomiting, children playing and pornographic scenes of women, including that of a vagina that cuts into a video of someone trimming the hairs off a dog’s tail.
“I made this film with love,” said Gagnon, who used money from Quebec’s arts council to make the film. “Now I am being bashed because I am a man and I am white. I am only a young man who lives on his own, in his own studio and I don’t see where the privilege comes.”
Gagnon, who has never been to an Inuit community, says the film is part of a longer project based on the four directions and continues an exploration of his previous work drawn from online videos people post of themselves. Gagnon has similar work using YouTube videos to create films about teenagers talking about the end of the world and “redneck” Americans discussing conspiracy theories.
“I am making a film about people who film themselves, not the people,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be objective…but lets the viewer free, more like jazz, a free association of images. It is almost an unrealistic piece.”
Tagaq said she couldn’t finish watching the film because it made her physically ill.
“I couldn’t even watch it, I started weeping, it was triggering,” said Tagaq. “It is these kinds of situations that lead to direct violence when you emit a disparaging sentiment for an entire race of people…it is giving people permission to be racist and a whole bunch of losers are going to take up on that….It is dangerous for me, it is dangerous for my daughter. This is unacceptable.”
Stephen Puskas, an Inuk producer for Montreal radio show Nipivut, also said he was made ill by the film.
“I couldn’t sit through the entire film. I felt physically ill….I felt that I was either going to cry or get sick. I only slept four hours last night and I have to force myself to eat because I lost my appetite,” said Puskas. “It just seemed to get worse and worse.”
Puskas said the film is an aesthetic failure spawned by ignorance.
“This film is ignorant about a race of people. I think it is the definition of racism and I don’t use that word lightly,” he said. “I think this is a racist film and I think it perpetrates negative stereotypes of Inuit, it perpetrates ignorance and miseducation about Inuit and it doesn’t provide any productive argument.”
Puskas has been phoning film festivals that plan to show Gagnon’s film and urging them to pull the work. The Gatineau, Que., film festival Daimon told APTN Tuesday it was pulling the film over concerns it used Tagaq’s music without permission.
Gagnon said he is not a racist and has Indigenous ancestry in his family tree.
“I am calling for the right to make a specific film about specific issues. They would like to make a generalist film to show more positive things. This is not what I wanted, I wanted to make something extremely precise and I did it. I feel we have a right to be specific about a specific,” he said. “I make my film more like a sculpture, my piece of wood I wanted to carve from 500 hours of footage online that is publicly available for everyone to see.”
Gagnon said he wept at one point making the film and is disappointed by Tagaq’s reaction to his work.
“I was thinking she could understand and see some value in this project and again I am really sorry she is so offended, but I am an artist too and artists are not there to please. Maybe we are not on the same path,” said Gagnon.
Tagaq said Gagnon is no artist, but a “hack” who has used “sensationalism” to draw notoriety where talent has failed.
“Number one, he has never been up there and, number two, it is not his place to discredit an entire race,” said Tagaq. “It is sensationalism at its best.”