Three Thousand (2017)

by Charissa von Harringa

Three film stills. The top is blue wavy patterns. The middle is a hand picking part of a plant. The third is an animation of two figures with backs to us overlooking a lit city at night.
asinnajaq. Film stills from Three Thousand. 2017. Animated short. 14 min.
The National Film Board of Canada.

An Inuit Futures Forecast

“It seems inconceivable as I live now…

there will be a world where I don’t exist.”

Infrared waves operate beyond the visible spectrum of light to reveal living objects and matter unseen to the naked eye or telescopic lens. The animated short-film Three Thousand (2017) opens with digitally rendered infrared images evocative of Arctic sea and landfast ice which appear to pulse with fading blue light. A whispered voice offers poetic reflection on the past and future of the artist’s homeland and peoples of Inuit Nunangat. As the ice heats and melts, the abstracted landscape is transformed from a frozen tundra into an elemental, life-giving force of light and energy, and finally into water as liquid memories.

Three Thousand is an animated short written and directed by Inukjuak born and Montreal based Sobey art award winning visual artist, filmmaker, and curator, asinnajaq. This is a story of Inuit, told from an Inuit perspective. Through an intimate sequence of sounds, images, and narratives, Three Thousand explores the evolving representation of Inuit in media and film and the process of image-making. Weaving digital animation and archival imagery, sourced from historic film footage at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), Three Thousand is a reclamation of Inuit cultural memory and collective experience under the fraught conditions of colonialism. From within the dusty Settler-Canadian archives, where the visual and material traces of Inuit and Canadian histories meet, filmmaker and viewer are together transported through a portal of compressed time and space, where a hundred years of Inuit history is captured in a mere span of fourteen minutes.

Breathing Life into the Archives

“My father was born in a spring igloo…

I was born in a hospital with jaundice and two teeth.’’

The opening animation and film credits segue into mid-century black and white footage of Inuit carrying out daily life on the Arctic landscape. Until recently, much of Arctic and Inuit history has been visually captured and narrated by outsiders. The opening scenes indeed recall Robert Flaherty’s 1922 docufiction, Nanook of the North. In the early 20th century, Arctic Indigenous lands and peoples were stereotyped in film, photography, and the popular imagination as so-called “ethnographic” subjects. The pervasive influences of Modern romantic primitivism in the portrayal of Arctic Indigenous peoples as supposedly “vanishing” and “noble” races untainted by modernity produced subjects wholly outside of contemporaneity, as if “frozen in time.”

By the time of Flaherty’s film, however, Inuit in Canada had already experienced the profound disruption of land-based dwelling and a precontact way of life. The continuous influx and influence of outsiders, including explorers, missionaries, and researchers, in the early twentieth century introduced ideas and technologies, including the camera. This was followed by efforts during the modern era to assimilate Inuit into Canadian society through the establishment of government housing, civic institutions, and the residential school system. Impressions of this are captured in the film at 3:34-4:35, where Qallunaat are shown distributing food and resources, constructing homes, and providing education to Inuit. Typical documentary narration, however, gives way to sounds and human breath. Field recordings, original music, and Inuit throat-singing animate the faint sounds of children’s laughter and the warbling sounds of a woman’s ulu piercing through fresh fish, flying loons, barking dogs, a thundering caribou herd, and piercing wind. The incorporation of sound as a creative technique suggests that visual archives are indeed living histories.

Media Archives Reclaimed and Stereotypes Collapsed

Settler media archives, many of which are today stored away in cultural institutions and private collections, are among the visual resources Indigenous artists use in the reclamation and reimagination of identities and collective cultural histories. To produce this film, time was spent with the archives at the National Film Board of Canada, where asinnajaq sourced moving images of Inuit in ethnographic documentary and television media. In the mid-20th century, the NFB played a pivotal role in imaging and narrating the Arctic to showcase paternalistic governance in the North, and consequently, support a national identity for Canada during the postwar years. Photostories and expository documentary videos, however, had the negative effect of disenfranchising Inuit subjects through the exclusion of Inuit names, perspectives, and stories. These elisions are further complicated by the effects of silent black and white film, which supported an ethnographic gaze, and the documentary potential of the medium to construct certain expectations of reality for the viewer, effects often achieved through non-Inuit narrative and musical overlay.

Three Thousand gives space for the archive to unfold and tell its own multivaried story for the viewer. While colonial events are inferred through a general sequence of historical interaction, the filmmaker takes expressive liberty to foreground the subtleties of Inuit in these entangled interactions—playful or mischievous behavior, inquisitive smiles, and riotous laughter frequently appear in the film. Such gestures evoke the felt impressions of history, memory, place, and colonial experience, as it appears through the looking glass of an archive. Images of Inuit and the landscape reappear in the following sequence, but this time, in rare archival color film. An intimate family scene and idyllic berry-picking in the spring appear in vivid Kodachrome, presenting a different narrative and aesthetic register. These images indeed collapse many stereotypes relating to the Arctic as a purely “white” and “barren” landscape through the presence of sounds, color, flora, and fauna.

The following sequence casts a sharply realistic lens on the oft romanticized images of the Arctic. Image of industry and extraction, incarceration, and contemporary housing conditions present an unglamorized window into social life in the North today. In the midst of these changing contexts and circumstances, however, Inuit children are still taken on the hunt, a man and woman sit on the kitchen floor silently cutting sealskin together, and an elderly woman concentrates on her meticulous basket weave. These scenes foreground the enduring connection Inuit have always had to the land, to cultural knowledge, and relational practices.

Imagining Inuit Futures 

“I am a little caribou woman…”

I will become Light.”

The broad sociopolitical impacts of colonialism, evidenced in the Canadian visual archives, is the obscuring of Inuit names, experiences, perspectives, and contemporaneity. This had a profound impact on Inuit identity, culture, and way of life. Inuit continue to struggle against a “frozen” archive of inherited identities, representations, and narratives which today do not offer a complete representation of history. Indeed, the archives continue to hold value and meaning in the negotiation of personal and collective cultural memory, identity, and belonging–aspects central to Inuit artistic practice today. Since the 1970’s, Isuma Productions, formerly known as Igloolik Isuma Productions and co-founded by Zacharias Kunuk, OC, and Norman Cohn, has been foundational and instrumental to the international global broadcasting of Inuit-based media. Isuma TV’s documentary videos and Inuktitut language programming are especially instrumental in foregrounding Inuit voices, oral history, and storytelling. In the contemporary art scene, moreover, artists including Glenn Gear, Nyla Innuksuk, Geronimo Inutiq, and Lindsay McIntyre are exploring film, digital animation, new media, and archives to foreground their own personal aesthetics, stories, and experiences. Photographers like Barry Pottle, Eldrid Allen, and Robert Kautuk, furthermore, use the medium to document their own communities from diverse aesthetic, environmental, and cultural perspectives.

If Inuit contemporaneity and cultural resurgence are thriving in the arts, culture, and society today, how might Inuit communities and political self-determination be imagined and visualized for the future? In the final animated sequence of Three Thousand, an auroroa borealis appears to transport Inuit children and hybrid creatures through time, into a distant future. A drone-like pan over an Inuit community shows a community, much like today, thriving in futuristic pod-like homes resembling the shape of traditional snow houses, a monument dedicated to Inuit history, and a central thriving performance center.

Three Thousand is a film that gives life, energy, and poetic resonance to history and the visual archives. Like much of contemporary circumpolar art today, the film shines a light on Inuit historical experience, cultural heritage, and artistic expression. This is a celebration of Inuit life and existence, a creative reimagining of Inuit future relations, hopes, dreams, and creative vision for the present and future.


About the Author

Dr. Charissa von Harringa, a scholar and curator with a PhD from Concordia University (Graduate Valedictorian), is dedicated to advancing and supporting circumpolar and Indigenous voices and practices in contemporary art. Her dissertation examines five decades of circumpolar exhibitions, foregrounding Inuit and Sámi perspectives. Dr. von Harringa’s commitment to decolonization and engaged research is evident in her co-curated exhibitions, Among All These Tundras and Tusarnitut! Music Born of the Cold, and inclusive scholarship showcased in publications like Arctic Prisms: Circumpolar Arts Across Inuit Nunaat and Sápmi, “Movement and the Living Surface,” a Routledge study on Greenlandic Modernism and Pia Arke, and essays and reviews in RACAR, Inuit Art Quarterly, and C Magazine. As the Managing Editor of the Arctic Arts Summit Digital Platform for the Inuit Art Foundation, she actively promotes dialogue and collaboration within the art world.


Further Reading

Ipellie, Alootook. “The Colonization of the Arctic,” in Indigena: Contemporary Native Per-spectives, edited by Gerald McMaster and Lee-Ann Martin (Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas and McIntyre, 1992), pp. 39-42.

Bredin, Marian. “Who Were We? And What Happened to us? Inuit Memory and Arctic Futures in Igloolik Isuma Film and Video.”  In MacKenzie, Scott and Anna Westerståhl Stenport, eds., Films on Ice: Cinemas of the Arctic. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015: 33-44.

Lalonde, Christine. “Can Inuit Bring Storytelling into the New Millennium? The Igloolik Isuma Video Archive at the National Gallery of Canada”, in ARCTICNOISE: Geronimo Inutiq, edited by Tarah Hogue (Vancouver: grunt gallery, 2016), 38-42.

Hopkins, Candace. “Interventions in Digital Territories-Narrative in Native New Media” in Transference, Tradition, Technology-Native New Media Exploring Visual and Digital Culture, edited by Melanie Townsend, Dana Claxton, Steve Loft (Banff Alberta: Walter Phillips Gallery, 2005).

Fienup-Riordan, Ann. “Frozen in Film: Alaskan Eskimos in the Movies,” in Films on Ice: Cinemas of the Arctic, edited by Scott MacKenzie and Anna Westerståhl (Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 59-71.

Sylvie, Jasen. “The Archive and Reenactment: Performing Knowledge in the Making of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen” Velvet Light Trap 71 (Spring 2013): 3-14.

Igloliorte, Heather, Julie Nagam, and Carla Taunton, “Introduction: The Future Possibilities of the Indigenous Digital and New Media Art,” Indigenous Art: New Media and the Digital Special Issue, PUBLIC 54, Winter 2016: 5-13.

Igloliorte, Heather. “Inuit Art is a Marker of Cultural Resilience” Inuit Art Quarterly 25.1-2 (Spring/Summer 2010).

Payne, Carol. “Lessons with Leah: Re-Reading the Photographic Archive of Nation in the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division.” Visual Studies, Vol. 21, No. 1 (April 2006), 4-22.

Dudemaine, A., Marcoux, G. and St-Amand, I., 2020. “Indigenous Cinema and Media in the Americas: Storytelling, Communities, and Sovereignties.” Canadian Journal of Film Studies, 29(1), pp.27-51.



Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

CanadARThistories Copyright © by Alena Buis; Devon Smither; ecavaliere; Jen Kennedy; Johanna Amos; and Sarah E.K. Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book