Still from Restless River

Panel Discussion with Filmmakers of 'Restless River'

BY Angeline Dimambro, December 1, 2020

Ana Ochoa, Professor of Music and Ethnomusicology, recently kicked off a conversation with Marie-Hélène Cousineau and Lucy Tulugarjuk, two of the filmmakers behind Restless River, and Amalia Cordova, Mother Tongue Film Festival, Smithsonian, moderated by filmmaker and curator Cass Gardiner


Ochoa is Professor and Chair of the Department of Music, and a faculty member at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. Her recent book, Aurality, Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia (Duke University Press, 2014) was awarded the Alan Merriam Prize by the Society for Ethnomusicology. She writes on music and cultural policy, forced silence and armed conflict, and genealogies of listening and sound in Latin America and the Caribbean. 


Originally from Montreal, Cousineau is a filmmaker and artist. She received an MFA in communication studies and production from the University of Iowa, and an MA in art history from the Université du Québec à Montréal. She has taught at various institutions, including Concordia University in Montreal. She is known for her thoughtful, feminist, and cross-cultural work, either in drama or documentaries. Tulugarjuk is an actress, filmmaker, writer, and throat singer. Originally from Iglulik, NU, Tulugarjuk now lives in Montreal, QC. She has been involved in the film industry for over 20 years, working in a variety of roles including director, assistant director, makeup artist, costume designer, casting director, and more. 


Set at the end of World War II, Restless River follows Elsa, a young Inuk woman, as she comes to terms with motherhood after being assaulted by a soldier. Navigating the social norms of the colonizers and her own heritage, Elsa draws courage from her rugged land and the river that cuts across it. The film is based on Gabrielle Roy’s 1970 novel Windflower (La Riviere Sans Repos). 


The discussion of Restless River was the third in the series co-curated by Ochoa, Amalia Cordova, and School of the Arts' Public Program and Engagement Director Gavin Browning, which showcases Indigenous films.


Restless River is Arnait Video Productions’ latest feature film project. Arnait, originally known as the Women’s Video Workshop of Igloolik, was founded in 1991 and aims to “value the unique culture and voices of Inuit women and to open discussions with Canadians of all origins.” A founding member of Arnait, Cousineau moved to Igloolik, Nunavut in the early nineties and opened the Tarriaksuk Video Centre with Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn. “There are film co-ops and video access centers all around Canada, but not in the Arctic,” Cousineau said. Beyond that, the people she saw working at the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation or who were otherwise involved in video and television-making were predominantly men. As a feminist, Cousineau sought to work with women: “I went on the community radio and I asked if there were women interested in learning how to make videos. And if so, come to my house, and we’ll see what we can do.” The women Cousineau met in response to her radio ad later collaborated on what would become Arnait’s first project—“Survey for a Women’s Video Workshop.”


Since its founding, Arnait has produced multiple short films (narrative and documentary) as well as a few feature-length projects. “The works coming from the collective are known for their historical approach,” Cordova noted. “They often draw on oral tradition or historical texts, so through these films we are literally immersed in Inuit life, and the culture and language.” The collective is also known for their collaborative style in directing. Arnait’s first feature, for example, Before Tomorrow (2009), was co-directed by Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu based on a script by Susan Avingaq, Cousineau and Ivalu. 


Similar to Before Tomorrow, Restless River is also based on a novel. At the beginning of the film, the protagonist Elsa is obsessed with going to the movies, so much so that her mother teases her that “she will become a flat image on the wall too.” This line struck Gardiner in particular: “I couldn’t help but think of Robert J. Flaherty’s 1922 documentary, Nanook of the North, and how Inuit specifically have been a favorite subject of documentary filmmakers, always seen through this Western perspective, with this anthropological lens looking in.” Gardiner asked the filmmakers if and how they saw Restless River as a subversion of this trend. Tulugarjuk recalled how when she saw Nanook of the North as a child, she noticed all the discrepancies between what the film presented as true and the reality of the world she knew and lived in. “In Restless River,” Tulugarjuk said, “and the documentaries we make, we try to be accurate—how things are done, how things are said—to respect the traditional word, or the object, or the story itself...Maybe if Robert Flaherty consulted with the Inuit and asked them, how do I do this, what is the proper way to fix it, then maybe Inuit observers would have been feeling more like, yes, that represents us well.” 


This event was co-presented by the Smithsonian’s Mother Tongue Film Festival and the School of the Arts at Columbia University. Watch the trailer for the film here. The complete film is available for digital purchase through Vimeo on Demand. The full on conversation can be viewed online.