PEOPLE OF A FEATHER MOVIE REVIEW
First Run Features
Reviewed for Neviw York Cool by Harvey Karten. Data-based on RottenTomatoes.com
Director: Joel Heath
Screenwriter: Joel Heath, Dinah Kavik, Johnny Kudluarok, Community of Sanikiluaq
Cast: Community of Sanikiluaq
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 10/23/13
Opens: November 8, 2013
“Dam, dam, dam, dam,” to paraphrase Henry Higgins from the musical “My Fair Lady” (without the n letter). Higgins complained that he had grown accustomed to the face of Eliza Doolittle, but such a concern dwarfs when compared to the cavils of a group of Inuit and Cree people living in the Canadian Arctic. They fear that the hydroelectric dams constructed on Hudson Bay near the remote Belcher Islands are ruining the ecostructure of their land. Specifically, these man-made dams are emitting warm, fresh water onto the ice-covered area. The fresh water freezes at a lower temperature than the natural salt water. When the entire land is covered with ice, the eider ducks have no place to catch their favorite morsel, sea urchins, which they seize by diving a considerable distance and coming up with the food in their beaks. The dams harm not only the wildlife but the Inuit as well, as they depend on eider feathers of this duck species to make their coats. The down is considered the warmest insulation in the world against the minus forty degrees temperatures that are normal in this lightly populated region of Canada.
Joel Heath, who traveled from Vancouver to the Belchers on seven successive winters to make this film, does not deal with enough information about this distant culture—for example, we don’t know how they make their living, whether by selling the eider features or finished coats or from some other goods. But how many movies have come to the Cineplex recently dealing with this anthropological subject?
Although the film is repetitive and static—hence my B- grade—Heath’s film features a number of dramatic moments, including one in which a local animal chases down and eats a flying duck and one in which a duck dives a considerable distance to the territory of the urchins, then zip gracefully back to the surface as though pantomiming a ballet. There are some cool close-ups of ducks and several shots taken at a distance in which the scallop-winged creature paint the sky like a band of locusts from “The Good Earth.”
Heath concentrates on one family, showing us how the Kaviks sustain themselves by clubbing and eating seal meat as well as ducks. But if you think of these people as living in igloos and kayaking down streams, forget it. A couple of staged flashbacks to “100 years ago” demonstrates their icy housing and primitive sailing now displaced by spacious, modern homes, one of which, the Kaviks’, has a fancy Sony TV, a washing machine, a gas range, and a combination of cabinets. They are part of a community of the hamlet of Sanikiluaq: they have no desire or intention to move downtown to Vancouver or Montréal or Toronto. The Inuit speak their own language but at least one of them, a friendly rotund chap who narrates as well, can converse in English. Heath’s time-lapse photography is close to awesome, capturing the changes in current from the Québec hydroelectric plant. And there are changes within the residents’ culture: the Sanikiluaq community has its own rap band and all the young people try to outdo one another performing break dances.
An environmental group posts the need for action that could presumably reverse the damage done by the plants. Go to http://ArcticEider.com for the manifesto of the Arctic Eider Society and plans for action.
Unrated. 92 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B-