A heartfelt, focused documentary that articulates the struggle of the marginalized
The first shot in the 2016 documentary Angry Inuk is of the arctic: it is beautiful, desolate and isolated. A hunter shoots, hooks and skins a seal. While butchering the animal, the hunter explains how each piece of the seal will be used in one way or another. The hunter returns to his small, isolated village and go door to door giving out the meat. The communities who seal hunt in this way are all small and isolated, and our journey into their lives is an intimate one, as shown by this initial sequence.
Angry Inuk is a worthwhile documentary in a number of ways. Firstly, it stands tall as an honest and comprehensive analysis of seal hunting as it exists in Inuit communities. It shows the process, what it means to members of the community, and how it is unfairly portrayed on the world stage. In addition to this, however, it shows many issues that Indigenous communities face. Systemic poverty, unfair legislation and marginalization are all on display here in a tangible way. It is, of course, untrue to say that all marginalized communities are treated similarly, but Angry Inuk does illuminate the mechanisms of a specific type of marginalization and thereby allows the viewer to understand how marginalization on this scale functions.
Those opening minutes navigate seal hunts frankly, and I recounted them here because they are essential to the rest of the film: they frame the story by serving as a mental reference point for us to return to when this controversial practice is taken to courts in the European Union.
The issue is, of course, more complex than simply “shooting seal=bad?” The seal hunt at the top of the film isn’t illegal, as writer-director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril explains. Instead, laws have been established which essentially kill the market for clothing made out of seal skin. This harms the populations who need to hunt the seal for food, as selling surplus skin is essential income for many hunters. Angry Inuk illuminates the unworkable economic situation that many Inuit communities have been given.
Angry Inuk also battles many misconceptions that exist about seal hunting. For example, the whitecoat seals which are used in all the anti-sealing propaganda (as Greenpeace’s anti-sealing campaigns are often called) aren’t hunted; it’s actually illegal to kill those particular seals. Additionally, the seal population has been growing exponentially for the last few decades and is nowhere near endangered or even at-risk, as is often suggested by groups like PETA or Greenpeace.
Angry Inuk can feel like a dry lecture at times, but this isn’t inexcusable, and may not bother some. However, it did impact my experience, and so merits mentioning. This occasional dryness, though, is almost necessitated by the subject of the film itself. The contention around seal hunting affects the Inuit in an incredibly intimate way, and to grasp it in its complexity requires some background knowledge, which the film certainly provides. It’s not always engaging to watch, but the information is clear and explained well. As I’ve indicated above, it goes into great depth and is presented with incredible heart and reverence for the subject matter.
Angry Inuk confidently succeeds as a documentary. It is not only informative and comprehensive, but also boasts some stunning visuals. However, it goes beyond simply highlighting one important issue, as it also serves as a firsthand account of the battle against systemic marginalization and for Indigenous rights.