Inuit pic opens fest

'Rasmussen' unspooling in Igloolik on Saturday

The Toronto Intl. Film Festival has unveiled its opening night film, the world premiere of Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn’s “The Journals of Knud Rasmussen,” several months earlier than usual.

Fest opens Sept. 7, and the opening film is usually unveiled at the end of June.

Set in the 1920s, “Rasmussen” is the tale of the last great Inuit shaman, Avva (Pakak Innukshuk) and his daughter Apak (Leah Angutimarik). Apak has one foot in her father’s ancient world and another in the modern world in which Christianity is rising, as a group of Danish scientists arrive to record their way of life.

The announcement was made early because “Rasmussen” is unspooling in Igloolik, the Inuit community in the Canadian territory of Nunavut in which the film is set, on Saturday and then will tour 56 remote communities in Canada and Greenland.

“We had it confirmed and ready to go,” said fest spokesman Denny Alexander. “We knew there would be a lot of speculation and anticipation of this film, so we wanted to announce it.”

A Canada-Denmark co-production, pic was produced by the same team behind “Atanarjuat the Fast Runner,” winner of the Camera d’Or at Cannes in 2001.

As with “Atanarjuat,” “Rasmussen” was written, produced, directed and performed in Inuktitut, the Inuit language spoken by fewer than 100,000 people.

Pic is a presentation of Kunuk Cohn Prods., Igloolik Isuma Productions and Barok Film.

Producers are Cohn, Kunuk, Vibeke Vogel, and Elise Lund Larsen. Alliance Atlantis Motion Picture Distribution will release “Rasmussen” in Canada in the fall. SF Films will handle pic’s Scandinavian release, and Isuma Distribution Intl. will handle worldwide distribution.

Also as with “Atanarjuat,” the early “Rasmussen” screenings are taking place in tiny community centers or high schools rather than theaters, without subtitles and for locals only, many of whom appeared in the film. Saturday’s screening in Igloolik will be preceded by a community feast of caribou.

Knud Rasmussen was a real-life Danish/Inuit anthropologist, polar explorer and author.

The 31st Toronto fest runs Sept. 7 to 16.