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Films >> Fast Runner, The (Atanarjuat) (2001) >>

Atanarjuat is based on a thousand-year-old Inuit legend passed down through the oral tradition. Two of the three creative forces behind this movie (Norman Cohn is the third), Paul Apak (writer) and Zacharias Kunuk (director), are Inuit and heard the story as children from their parents and elders. "I was born to a family of twelve in a sod house on the land," says Kunuk, and "My mother would be telling these stories, like Atanarjuat, to put us, my brothers and sisters, side by side, to sleep. . . . we all grew up with this story and once it was taught to you, you never forgot that naked man running out on the ice." Once he started thinking about filming the story, Apak recorded versions from "maybe about eight to ten elders." We have found five written versions of the story: versions collected by outsiders Franz Boas (1901) and Knud Rasmussen (1929), and versions by Inuits Jimmy Ettuk (1964), Michel Kuppaq (1990), and Herve Paniaq (1990). The harder-to-get versions by Boas, Rasmussen, and Ettuk can be found in our historical context section, and the other two (along with Rasmussen's) are available in Michael Evans's 2008 book. The versions differ from each other and the film, of course, most tellingly, as elaborated by Evans, in the ending. In the oral tradition, Atanarjuat returns and consummates his revenge in a decidely violent manner, whereas in the film Atanarjuat halts the spiraling violence by declaring "the killing stops here" over the body of the defenseless Oki. Regarding this significant change, Kunuk has said: "Paul Apak talked and we all changed the ending. In the original story when they are fighting inside the ice igloo, he [Atanarjuat] smashed his [Oki's] head. Paul felt that that doesn't make any sense. That is going to go on and on and on. We also knew that they [the Inuits] used to just send people away instead of killing them and that was a better ending so we chose that. He [Apak] even asked the elders, is it all right to change the end? I remember one of the elders answering him, 'We are storytellers.'" Evans says "the producers brought the ending around to a positive note in an effort to emphasize the necessity of placing the group before the individual." An interesting example of and affirmation of the conscious constructedness of history that the Reel American History project is all about.