Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Katajanik utippalianina and other cultural treats

This image is from The Return of Throat Singing  by Jenn Brown.
This past work week was extraordinarily busy with the Nickel Film Festival in full swing - 55 films worth, a word opera to review, and an afternoon of touring with Adventure Canada visitors.

Katajanik utippalianina The Return of Throat Singing
Dir: FRAMED Participants, Women's Film Festival project by Jenn Brown NL (Documentary 7.0)

The Return of Throat Singing is a sliver of a documentary that is a scant seven minutes long.  What director Jenn Brown has done is rely entirely on the spare words and the wide smiles of her participants.  There is no narrator's voice to pose questions, no historical perspective to contextualize the loss of an indigenous cultural practice.  But when filmmaker Jenn Brown heard that young women were teaching themselves to sing in that distinctive, urgent humming she had to go and discover it for herself.  "Imagine, a tradition in Nain, which was nearly destroyed by the missionaries.  And now high school girls are practicing their singing during breaks between classes!" exclaims Brown.

We are shown the girls, face to face, leaning rocking with their voices bouncing back and forth.  The girls are in casual clothes and only in one outdoor scene are they in traditional dress.  This is not cultural processed and packaged for Western tourism.  When the girls introduce their songs it is in the simplest of terms, "This one is a love song", "That one was about geese flying over head and how the sounds change."  The songs are sung with evident pleasure but without fanfare.  Learned through imitation and practice.  Brown says it was important for her not impose her view on the revival although she was struck by the women's spirit of independence.  "It really is like a gift from the younger generation back to the elders" she explains.

Inuit throat singing is usually done in duets and almost exclusively by women.  They describe as a game with a leader and a follower.  The leader sets the pace of the rhythmic inhalations and exhalations of breath.  It is a friendly competition and the first woman to loose the rhythm surrenders.  Laughter is a constant feature and is often the tell tale sign that someone has won.

The Return of Throat signing was screened as part of a diverse selection of 55 films from 10 different countries over five evenings.  As an unadorned documentary it was a most welcome relief from many of the other films that although excellently made, were often intense or dark. The Return of Throat Singing stood out with an engaging freshness from the other genres such as comedy, horror and experimental.
St. John's has a new talent in town: poet and playwright Riley Palanca from Manila.

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