Days after British film star Ralph Fiennes visited Nunavut looking for an Inuk actress for his directorial debut, a second highly regarded industry veteran has travelled to the North to do the same.
Award-winning U.S. director Robert Young has made his first return to Nunavut since 1967
“I think we’re the right team to make this film,” said Young, 82, who was in Iqaluit with his son Andrew, a recognized filmmaker in his own right.
‘Julie of the Wolves‘ is the story of a contemporary Inupiat girl
The Youngs’ lead, once she is found, will star in an adaptation of the 1973 Newberry-Award-winning children’s classic, which has sold millions of copies worldwide. It tells the story of a young Inupiat girl who must cope with changes in her life after her father disappears on a seal hunt.
Fleeing a forced marriage into the Alaskan tundra, Julie befriends a pack of wolves, with whom she lives for a time. Eventually, however, she must return to town, where she discovers her father has become thoroughly westernized and married to a white woman.
“It’s a girl turning into a woman and through that process finding out who she really is,” said Andrew Young. “It’s also about our relationship to the earth.
“The story is incredibly timely.”
It also shares elements with Fiennes’s project, a love story about a young woman who returns to the Arctic after losing her language and culture during her time at a Winnipeg convent.
Andrew Young acknowledges the two films require female actors with similar characteristics and his project will benefit from the added excitement of two movies looking for a star.
A new database of Inuit Actresses
Although both Fiennes and the Youngs will probably conduct a few advance interviews, casting for both films will begin in earnest at a Nunavut film trade show next Thursday. A booth run by local industry organization Ajjiit Media will collect resumes and pictures and video brief interviews with young hopefuls.
The resulting collection not only will help the current filmmakers with their casting, but also form the nucleus of a database for future film directors looking for Inuit talent.
Julie’s story may be set in Alaska, but Andrew Young says Nunavut offers both a larger talent pool and better film infrastructure.
Financing for the independent production hasn’t been completed, but he isn’t worried.
“We don’t believe we will have trouble getting it funded.”
Shooting could begin as early as next fall, although the following spring is more likely. The actress playing Julie will first have to spend some time getting familiar with the wolves – a trained pack in Utah that will be used in the film.
Young says his own attachment to Julie’s story stems from her quest for identity and intense attachment to place, something that he grew up without.
“I’ve never felt that strong connection to my own ancestry, so I’ve always felt a strong connection to those that do.”
Finding a family connection in the Artic
Then there’s the family connection. Young Sr. travelled to Pelly Bay (now Kugaaruk) in the mid-1960s to film a series of documentaries with some of the last Inuit to lead traditional lives.
He travelled by dog, lived in igloos and hunted seal. The wife of his Inuit guide made him warm traditional clothes.
“(She) chewed my boots, which I thought was quite something that my own wife would never do for me,” he recalls.
The documentaries he helped produce have been widely shown throughout the world and are still available from the National Film Board. One, in a version made for CBS, won an Emmy.
Young’s subsequent career has included awards from the Cannes Film Festival and work with big-name actors from Farrah Fawcett to Ray Liotta, but this is the first time he’s been back to the Arctic.
The North he’s returned to is a far different place from the one in which he had to fix his own broken tooth with a file and some melted candle wax.
“The romance is gone,” he says.
But some things haven’t changed.
“The faces, the faces … remarkable strong faces.”