Nunavut Quest goes online

From Northern News Services
Monday, October 25, 2010

KANGIQTUGAAPIK/CLYDE RIVER -- Audiences around the country and throughout the world will soon have an opportunity to learn about the Nunavut Quest dog team race.

Last April a team of filmmakers and editors with Piksuk Media and the Ilisaqsivik Society in Clyde River documented the week-long race, which involved 17 mushers from six Qikiqtaaluk communities racing between Pond Inlet and Clyde River. The footage is now in the final stage of post-production.

"The feedback we're getting from our broadcasters is that the visuals are stunning," said Charlotte DeWolf, senior producer with Piksuk Media. "It's a great story. It really gives audiences an overview of the race."

The ambitious multi-media, multi-lingual project involves a French-language documentary special for CBC television in Quebec, a six-part English and Inuktitut documentary series for APTN, and an online educational video game.

The hour-long French-language special, which is narrated by Philippe Lavallee of Iqaluit, is scheduled to be delivered to CBC Quebec next month for broadcast early in the new year. Producers anticipate the six half-hour episodes for APTN will be complete by late January for broadcast in the spring or fall of 2011.

The video game, scheduled for release this spring, will emulate the experience of a musher racing in the quest. Players can seek advice from elders by opening a video in a pop-up window. The elders will provide insight into the topography, weather conditions, characteristics of the dogteam and other knowledge needed to complete the route safely and swiftly.

"The game is in progress now and we're not having any hitches or difficulties," DeWolf said. "We're really excited about that. I think it's a milestone for Nunavut."

The producers are working with mushers and elders to develop the game this winter. They plan to seek input from youth early in the new year.

The Nunavut Quest was first run in 1999 as a celebration of the formation of Nunavut. Each year the race follows a different route. The race is distinct from dogteam races in other Arctic regions.

"The rules are different," DeWolf said. "The terrain is different. The spirit of the race is different. The whole atmosphere is different. Yes, it is competitive, but there is another spirit to the race as well. It's an exercise in cultural assertion."

All materials used by mushers must be handmade, including the harnesses and kamatiks. Each musher is accompanied by an advance support team that sets up camp for the racers each day.

If racers leave any refuse on the land they are penalized with extra time. If a racer assists another competitor who is in distress, they are rewarded by having their time shortened, thus honouring the spirit of co-operation that helps Inuit survive on the land.

The dogs used in the quest are also unique from other races. Unlike huskies and other racing breeds, the Inuit sled dogs are bred for endurance and to pull heavy loads. They are also hunters. The dogs scan the horizon for prey as they propel the musher forward, making them easily distracted.

The race last April presented special challenges, including a blizzard, white outs, strong winds and poor ice conditions.

Joelie Sanguya, Ilisaqsivik Society chair, participated in the race. Four camera operators shot interviews and filmed the arrivals and departures of the racers, while Sanguya carried a small camera strapped to his body to capture the action between camps.

"My cameramen could not bother the dogteam racers while they were doing the race," he said. "So, I had what they call a Go Pro. It's a very light camera. They can fit on your chest or you can put them on your forehead."

Sanguya regards the race as evidence of the revival of dogsledding in Nunavut. He would like to see participation grow.

"It would be nice if younger people and women would be involved more in this particular race," he said.

Back in Clyde River, editing trainee Mike Jaypoody is helping with the final edits. It is Jaypoody's third large project with Piksuk Media. Jaypoody drove one of the skidoos during filming and helped with camera and audio operation last April.

"Post production was pretty fun," Jaypoody said. "One of the highlights was being able to see things that weren't available to other people on the trip. I'm happy to see that there's going to be a show about the quest and about how people from different communities have different methods for dog teaming."

The rest of us will be able to experience the quest online and on television in 2011.