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Gothenburg 06/03/2012 - 04:10PM

The Experimental Eskimos

This Monday, the third screening of the spring season at Cinema Politica Gothenburg took place. The subject of this week's film club was the Canadian documentary The Experimental Eskimos. The film chronicles the lives of the three Inuit boys Peter Ittinuar, Zebedee Nungak and Eric Tagoona; who due to their above-avarage school-performances were singled out for an experiment conducted by the Canadian government in the early 1960s. The 12-year-old boys were sent to foster-parents in Ottawa so it could be seen whether they could adapt to a white middle-class upbringing, with some sort of ambiguous aim of them one day perhaps becoming educated leaders of the Inuit people in Canada. In line with the logic of the experiment, it was deemed a success since they boys managed to adapt to life in Ottawa quite well. And in the 1970s, they become some of the leading political figures in the struggle for minority recognition and eventually also self-governance for the territory now established as Nunavut. Somewhat ironically, they engaged in a at many times fierce battle against the Canadian government. Achieving significant success with this process, The Experimental Eskimos provides a good illustration of how empowerment actually matters for people.

For me, the fascinating nuance to this film was the personal fates of the three men - who despite achieving professional success all have struggled with severe alcoholism and chaotic personal lives. Throughout the movie, they frequently in more or less subtle ways pose the question of why their lives turned out the way they did and if the experiment was in anyway the root of the anxiety they have experienced, even though they genuinely do not seem to have felt their time in Ottawa to have been a negative experience. In this way, the film is both a manifestation of the magnitude and complexity of personal trauma as well awakening a discussion on the degree of personal responsibility for wrecking havoc on your loved ones. The Experimental Eskimos is also a powerful reminder of the shameful way in which many of the world's most prominent liberal democracies viewed and treated aboriginal people until late in the 20th century. Combined with extensive archive footage, the film is partly narrated by an eerie voice documenting the aims and achievements of the experiment. This, I feel, provides us with an insight to a history of racism that is much closer to our lives today than we often imagine.

If you follow the link below, you can watch a really interesting Q&A with director Barry Greenwald and Peter Ittinuar. Among other things, some of the current problems facing the new generation of Canadian Inuits are touched upon. Ittinuar in his typically rough manner, describes the living conditions as still resembling those of a ghetto, while the problem of education in sparsely populated areas is highlighted by the fact that Inuit youngsters still today need to leave home to pursue any form of higher education.


In two weeks we will show You Don't Like The Truth: Four Days Inside Guantànamo, the story of the Canadian child soldier Omar Khadr, who today remains the only detainee of Western origin still held at the Guantànamo Camp. You can watch the trailer and read more about it on our website here at Cinema Politica, and if you want notifications and information about the film club or other activities within the framework of the Society of Foreign Affairs, we strongly reccomend that you like our Facebook-page ----> .

// Adam


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