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Inuit film-maker blasts APTN language policy.

A new language policy introduced by the Aboriginal Peoples' Television Network (APTN) has Inuktitut speakers steaming mad.

The policy would have films shown on APTN dubbed into English, French and one or more Aboriginal language other than the Aboriginal language used to produce the work.

Many prominent Inuit have voiced strong criticism of the policy in recent weeks, including Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut's minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, and Inuit director Zacharias Kunuk, president of Igloolik Isuma Productions Inc., the company that produced the internationally-acclaimed film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

Norman Cohn, secretary-treasurer of Igloolik Isuma, was also harshly critical of the idea of having his company's work, including Atanarjuat, dubbed into another language.

"Everybody in the world accepts our programs in Inuktitut with subtitles, in Japan and in Toronto. So what are they saying? They're the only people on earth who are saying we need to put it in a dubbed language or else no one will understand it? People understand it all over the world. So they're not in a position to tell that their policy is good for our films. We know it's not."

Jean LaRose, APTN's chief executive officer, stands by the new policy.

With new technology emerging in television broadcasting, it will soon be possible for viewers to select from several different soundtracks for shows they want to view at home. The technology is called "versioning" and it's at the root of the disagreement between the Inuit and APTN.

The APTN CEO said there's nothing in the policy that would prevent a film-maker from making the case that subtitling might be appropriate for some projects for artistic reasons. But versioning has one big advantage over subtitling, he added.

"The Fast Runner was subtitled in English. When [Cohn] raised that with me, I said sometimes subtitling is not always something that we find very useful. That's why we want language versions ... When you look at the dropout rate of our population. A lot of our kids, 70 per cent of them, drop out before finishing school. A high proportion of them are illiterate. So when you give them a subtitled film, they can't understand the language and they can't read the words. You're still not telling them their story," he said.

"What we're seeking to do here is, in fact, live up to our full mandate by having more Aboriginal languages and more other versions to make our stories available to everybody--first of all among ourselves, let alone the rest of Canada and the world."

LaRose said versioning will allow more programming to be broadcast in Native languages. A show could have versions of its soundtrack available in Cree or Mohawk, for example.

Cohn said that having another language dubbed over the original vision would make his company's multiple award-winning masterpiece look "like a bad kung fu movie."

LaRose said the policy was not so inflexible as to lead to that situation. And if people are worried that Inuit language programming won't be seen on APTN as a result of this new policy, LaRose called that "a fallacy."

"We never said that and that's why we have a north feed on which we put some Inuktitut-only language programming," he said.

LaRose believes people who speak only Aboriginal languages other than Inuktitut would not be able to appreciate a film like Atanarjuat.

"They can't. And secondly, when the question was thrown at me by Norm Cohn, who was very aggressive in his initial e-mail to me, 'Are you trying to tell me that our masterpiece wouldn't be licensed today by APTN?' I said that under the current direction we're taking, we would ask possibly for an English version and other languages. And he just fixated on English. Then he said that we're trying to diminish the language and it's going to sound like a bad kung fu movie," LaRose said.

"Now, first of all, we're not talking-mostly--about full-length movies. We're talking about our documentary series or comedies or whatever. We're looking to get the producers to thinking to give language versions because part of where we want to go over the next few years as the technology expands is to give our viewers the chance to choose the language in which they listen to the show."

LaRose believes versioning will help attract more viewers and allow the shows to be marketed to other networks, something that would rarely happen with Inuktitut-language-only productions.

Norman Cohn believes there's more to APTN's language policy than its CEO is prepared to admit.

"They do support the idea that there should be films in Aboriginal languages ... they accept that the Inuit language deserves to have films made in the Inuit language. I assume the same thing is true for Cree and Dene and anything else. Their CRTC license obligates them to provide film-making in Aboriginal languages or else why would they even exist? So they're not challenging the obligation. They're trying to sell people on a shortcut for them to meet their obligation. And the shortcut is buy one film and put it in 10 languages instead of buying 10 films, each in their own language." Cohn said the APTN shortcut is going to hurt Aboriginal film-makers.

"We're a successful film company. So every time they put our film in Cree, that's one more Cree film they are not buying and one more Cree film-maker who's not getting financed. Our complaint is that they're using our work as a shortcut to shortchange all the other aspiring film-makers who are trying to get on the air," he said.

Windspeaker reported previously that APTN came perilously close to going off the air because of financial problems, but Jean LaRose denied there was a financial shortcut at the heart of the language policy.

LaRose said the network has turned the corner financially and is now looking to make the best use of emerging technology.

"As an network, we have to be representative of all Aboriginal languages. Not just a select few. Our mandate is to enhance, protect and preserve all of our languages, or at least as many as we can."

By Paul Barnsley

Windspeaker Staff Writer

COPYRIGHT 2005 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
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Author:Barnsley, Paul
Publication:Wind Speaker
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 2005
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