British Journal of Canadian Studies

The Last Days of Okak: filming Inuit loss in Northern Labrador

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2022), 34, (1), 1–18.

Abstract

The Last Days of Okak, a short film released in 1985, tells the story of the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic’s devastating impact on a Labrador Inuit community founded by Moravian missionaries. With an extremely high death rate, Okak was abandoned soon after the epidemic. This article explores the film as both public education and commemoration, and discerns the film’s political meaning, set as it is in an ongoing colonial context: that of the Inuit in what is now Canada. The filmmakers use narrative and visual techniques that effectively commemorate the large number of deceased and the survivors, a few of whom appear on screen. The film represents a departure from approaches often seen in Arctic films in that it de-romanticises the Inuit. It is also political in that it quietly and continually links the interrupted Inuit past and the emotional geographies of the Inuit present.

The Last Days of Okak, un court métrage sorti en 1985, raconte l’impact dévastateur de l’épidémie de grippe espagnole de 1918 sur un village Inuit du Labrador fondé par des missionnaires moraves. À cause d’un taux de mortalité extrêmement élevé, Okak a été abandonné. Cet article explore le film à la fois comme une éducation publique et comme une commémoration, et discerne l’importance politique du film, qui se déroule dans un contexte colonial en cours : celui des Inuits dans ce qui est maintenant le Canada. Les cinéastes utilisent des techniques narratives et visuelles qui commémorent efficacement le grand nombre de morts et de survivants, dont quelques-uns apparaissent à l’écran. Le film se démarque des approches souvent vues dans les films arctiques en ce sens qu’il n’idéalise pas les Inuits. Il est également politique en ce sens qu’il relie discrètement et continuellement le passé Inuit interrompu et les géographies émotionnelles du présent Inuit.

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Hanrahan, Caitlin Maura