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Tillitarniit festival invites Montrealers to experience Inuit food, language and art

Outdoor gathering at Concordia from August 2 to 4 features musical performances, games, films, storytelling and more
July 19, 2018
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), film still, 2001. |  Image courtesy of NFB.
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), film still, 2001. | Image courtesy of NFB.

At the heart of culture are the stories we tell. They shape our world, instill values and pass on knowledge from one generation to the next. With the power of story, people can learn about the commonalities and differences between their worlds and those around them.

Storytelling is also at the heart of the Tillitarniit Festival. Now in its third year, the annual event has matured from an Inuit film festival into a much broader arts festival celebrating Inuit storytelling.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see Tillitarniit grow,” says Asinnajaq, the festival’s curator.

“It is something that we needed and now it’s here. There’s some kind of magic thing that happens when you pass by something like this that is not normally there.”

The festival is held every August in Concordia’s FOFA Gallery courtyard, just off the busy Sainte-Catherine Street sidewalk, where passersby can take in aspects of Inuit culture.

For Inuit in Montreal, the event is fast becoming something to look forward to because it brings Inuit food, language and culture to the city.

Shaman (film still), 2017. | Image courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada. Shaman (film still), 2017. | Image courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada.

“Tillitarniit is an opportunity for (non-Indigenous) people to take a moment and get to know us a little bit better,” says Asinnajaq.

“It’s always important to remember that as Inuit, we also live in the city — we are a part of Montreal — and that we’re here and we’re contemporary.”

This year’s festival features Elisapee Inukpuk, a month-long exhibition on Inuit dolls and stories, as well as musical performances, Inuit games, traditional foods, storytelling and films made by Inuit.

The focus is on stories that Inuit have told for centuries and how today’s Inuit artists, storytellers and filmmakers are reinterpreting them.

“What’s important about these stories is that they usually have some kind of meaning in them that was important to transmit. It’s important to keep telling them so we can keep gaining their wisdom,” says Asinnajaq.

“It’s always important to keep links and ties with our ancestors and to make sure that the generations after us can also have that link.”

Kablunât (film still), 2016. | Image courtesy of the artist. Kablunât (film still), 2016. | Image courtesy of the artist.

Glenn Gear is a Labrador Inuk animator who designed the kaleidoscopic images on the festival’s banner. His film, Kablunât, uses historical and archival photos of Inuit to reinterpret and modernize the Labrador Inuit creation story about the origin of white people. Festival-goers can watch the film on August 2.

“An important part of a lot of my work is that I’m always reframing bits of history and recontextualizing them and understanding them from my point of view,” explains Gear.

“I don’t think history and archives should stand behind glass and remain fixed in space and time. They are always culturally relevant. By having them reframed and understood in new ways, we’re always learning new things about history. Part of that is integrating marginalized voices into history and understanding.”

Tillitarniit Inuit Arts Festival takes place August 2 to 4 in the FOFA Gallery Courtyard. Entry is free and everyone is welcome. Elisapee Inukpuk runs from July 16 to August 17, with a reception from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on July 21 at the FOFA Gallery (1515 Ste. Catherine St. W.)​.

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