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Film Review: Okpik’s Dream
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photo: Pierre Dunnigan
reviewed by Sue Hamilton
Okpik’s Dream is a documentary about Harry Sam Willy Okpik who lives in Quaqtaq, Nunavik, Canada, population about 376. Narrated almost entirely in his own words, Harry speaks with humility about his ancestral and more recent family history – the challenges of a traditional lifestyle “on the land”, and then the two appalling chapters of a more modern northern Canadian era: the residential school system and the dog slaughter, and how these actions impacted his early life. Without remorse or regret, Harry matter-of-factly details his own personal tragedy and its consequences and then goes on to describe how he overcame his misfortune to achieve his dream.
Courtesy of Nunavik Tourism
Young Harry grew up revering his father’s dog team activities, hoping one day of owning his father’s dogs. But “…because of the dog slaughter, I didn’t get to that.” When he was twenty-two years-old a hunting rifle’s accidental discharge shattered his right femur. Spending nearly two-and-a-half years in a Montreal hospital, he described feeling isolated ”…because you’re inside the city…compared to being free going out on the land…” After all that time of unsuccessful attempts to save his leg, Harry decided to have it amputated. For about five years that decision took an emotional toll on the young man. He feared not being able to overcome all his perceived consequences of loosing his leg. But a good friend encouraged Harry to begin trying to go back to doing the things he once enjoyed, including properly caring for and using a dog team.
According to 2013 Ivakkak race marshal, Johnny Oovout, “It [Ivakkak] reminds the Elders of what their life used to be like…and for the younger generation to see it because we have not had dog teams for about forty years or more.” Harry added, ”There were hardly any dogs for a while, for quite a few years after the dog slaughter. I guess the government expected people of the North to be the same as everyone. One can easily forget his own lifestyle and be focused on what is given to him. I didn’t want to be a part of that.” Ivakkak’s inaugural race was held in 2001. Harry Okpik began competing in 2002 at the age of forty-eight years and has entered every year since. “The enjoyment you get out of dog sledding, that part hasn’t changed since my father’s time. If I go dog sledding, I am very confident. It tells me I am more like Inuk now.”
Adamie Michaud (l) and Harry Okpik Screen capture: Okpik’s Dream
Harry Okpik sharing his journey to realizing his dream is his gift to the rest of us.
Okpik’s Dream, written and directed by Laura Rietveld and produced by Katarina Soukup is a quiet, unpretentious documentary with many powerful messages. Yes, it is a classic story of resiliency and triumph over adversity, both on cultural and personal levels. But there is much more to appreciate. There are many archival still photos and videos, gorgeous vistas. The viewer gets to observe close up what it is like living in small Nunavik hamlets. There are many, many scenes of dogs, caring for dogs, working with dogs, with a portion of the film devoted to the 2013 Ivakkak.
Okpik’s Dream has won the Grand Prix - Rigoberta Menchu Award at the Montreal First Peoples Festival (Canada) and Honourable Mention - Grand Prix City of Innsbruck - Innsbruck Nature Film Festival (Austria). The dialog is principally in English but there is some Inuktitut with English subtitles. This must-have DVD is seventy-three minutes long. Included is an incredible selection of thirteen extras.
From Okpik’s Dream DVD
It is available from the CatBird Online Boutique for $19.99 CDN each plus shipping.