The Fast Runner Reminding you this is a very big world.
The Fast Runner
dir. Kunuk
Opens Fri July 19
Cinema 21

The Fast Runner is a profoundly excellent movie for many reasons. But one of its strongest points is that it's totally engrossing--once you're hooked into the story, all signs of surface noise scratching at your brain completely disappear. This is indicative of the excellent filmmaking, cinematography, and impenetrable acting that encompasses the first feature-length film from director Zacharias Kunuk.

Timelessly set amid a group of arctic hunters in Igloolik (a real settlement in the eastern Arctic), the film is based on the epic Inuit legend of the Fast Runner, which has been passed down orally for generations. It tells the story of an evil which infiltrates the tribe--greed and selfish desire--and threatens to destroy the interdependence that is essential for the survival of the people.

Antanarjuat (played by Natar Ungalaaq) is the fast runner, a completely good force in a community of Inuit, who have been riddled with betrayal and murder. He loves Atuat (the beautiful Sylvia Ivalu, whose day job is Secretary for the Government of Nunavut in Igloolik), yet she was promised at birth to marry Oki (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq), the son of the group's leader and an aggressive, dark force who lives with evil inside him. They make a bet for Atuat, whom Antanarjuat wins in a fistfight--but time cannot erase Oki's desire for vengeance.

The Fast Runner is an extremely important film because, for most people, it's the first time traditional Inuit lifestyle is illuminated so intimately. It goes beyond merely speaking in the language; the film shows each fascinating detail of hunting, skinning, using seal fat as oil for light, building igloos, down to the carved bone sunglasses designed to shade their eyes from the sun. The director and screenwriter left out no detail, including the ancient-sounding songs the characters sing, and the actors aren't really "acting"--this is the film debut for many of them, but they're so natural, it seems as if we're just peeking in on their daily lives. However, because there's such a believable, gripping storyline underneath the film, there's no feeling of watching an educational video. You just become wrapped up in the storyline, the way of life; and eventually, the absence of technology, synthetic fabrics, even foliage, disappear. It's astounding, and a gorgeous reminder of how big the world is.