Skip to Content (Press Enter)



Filmed in 1956, this document presents the Inuit life in the winter camp of Quaqtaq, comprised of large family igloos. Traditional, their life is punctuated by hunting, women gathering, social life, building igloos, children playing... This document also shows one of the few scenes filmed from the inside of an igloo, where you can see the layout of those homes, their glass windows, the large soapstone oil lamp, etc.

QUAQTAQ (1956)

Film describing Inuit life in a small winter camp comprised of large family igloos.

16 mm colour movie, silent

19 minutes.

Director: B. Saladin d’Anglure.

Camera: B. Saladin d’Anglure

Shot during winter of 1956 in Quaqtaq, Nunavik, with the collaboration of R.P. Antoine et Dion, o.m.i. for logistics.

A first silent version was done in 1956 by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure. Then in 1958 a commentary was added for the western public, as well as a musical background of Aivilingmiut Inuit songs, provided by R.P. Arthur Thibert, o.m.i.; this version was done with the help from the Comité du Film Ethnographique français, Musée de l’homme, Paris. The film with commentary was purchased by Radio-Canada to be aired (unknown to the author) on Québec television during the long strike of TV directors (end of 1958). This strike ended with René Lévesque’s resignation and his beginning in politics with Jean Lesage, marking the start of the Quiet Revolution; the film also aired on the same year on Télé Luxebourg.
The current editing was done by the author in 2014-15, for the Inuit, from the original footage and following the chronological sequence of the scenes.

Award Connaissance du Monde 1957, given by a jury presided by Jean Rouch, of the Société des Explorateurs et Voyageurs français, Paris.

Full transcript


A dog is resting on the snow; he gets hit by snow, then suddenly gets up to run somewhere.

Director's commentary: January 1956. A rabies epidemic had spread from foxes to the dogs of Kangirsuk and decimated their dog population.


Four dogs are running, harnessed and attached to a sled and pulling it. We can see that the harnesses have different coloured designs on them.


Two different views of the dog team running and pulling a sled (which we don’t see).

Director's commentary: Two Inuits from the community decided to try to find some dogs in Quaqtaq. I was in Kangirsuk at the time, so the two of them - Johnny Peters and Jusipi Nasaq - invited me along.


A view of two men and one dog. One of the men manipulates a dogsled (he holds the front of the runners). A snow knife is planted in the snow close to him, and a metal container is visible in the front.


A man is working by a dogsled and an igloo, with four dogs around him. He throws a stick away.

Director's commentary: The trip took four days and three nights. Each evening, they would build a small igloo for the night, and then in the morning harness up the dogs again and we would continue our journey.


Two men are standing by an igloo, a dogsled and a dog team. One of the men holds a bag and brings it on the sled.


A dog is resting on the snow. It is harnessed and leashed.


Four dogs are running, harnessed and attached to a sled and pulling it. We can see that the harnesses have different coloured designs on them.


A dog is resting on the snow. It is harnessed.


A view of an igloo surrounded by a wall made of snow blocks. Two women are walking close to it. There is also a dogsled near them. Further away, we can see other snow constructions and elements of the camp. A person is walking away from these constructions.

Director's commentary: This is our arrival at Quaqtaq, seen from the hill that overlooks the village. In those days the only permanent house was the mission. The other dwellings were all big family igloos, often grouped together, two or three igloos together.


Another view from a hill of two igloos, both having two rooms in the entrance tunnel and wind block, and extra surrounding walls. There is clothing hanged on a drying rope between the igloos.


The same view is shot from further high on the hill. Two men are walking up the hill towards the camera.


A shot of two igloos covered with snow, with two rifles resting on one of them. The view moves on the lefthand side of the igloos to show two dogs (one is resting).

Director's commentary: The snowstorms they had in that area used to bury the igloos, so that after a month, they would have to build new ones, in the middle of winter, because the ones they were living in were completely snowed in, almost buried.


A shot of the same two dogs; the view moves down, towards the entrance of an igloo from which a boy comes out, smiling at the camera.

Director's commentary: This fellow is Jaiku, whose igloo was buried. He was a little slower than the other men, with poor eyesight, and they said he had designed his igloo a little too high.


A man is building an igloo. He is standing on a ladder, putting blocks near the roof. There is a dogsled on the ground, by the igloo.

Director's commentary: He put his sled across so that he could raise the blocks from the inside to finish the dome; meanwhile his adoptive son was helping him from the outside.


Five kids are running around an igloo. A person is working near the igloo. Dogs are also running around the camp.


A shot of two igloos and a toy dogsled leaning against it. Two kids arrive; one picks up the sled, then the other sits on it. The first kid puts one knee on the sled and starts pushing it away, on the snow.

Director's commentary: We can see here an igloo almost completely covered with snow, and the height of the window in the main dome, and also the children outside, having fun sliding, and so on. The children loved to play close to home and watch the adults working.


A view of the camp: dogs wandering about and kids running around an igloo.

Director's commentary: And now they are circling around the igloo under construction.


A man building an igloo. He climbs on a ladder with a snow block in his hand. Once arrived at the top of the ladder, he adjusts the block with his snow knife.

Director's commentary: Here we can see the adopted son, who is about to fill the cracks between the snow blocks, and then the inside of the igloo, where they have brought in new blocks. Initially the blocks were cut from within the circumference of the place the igloo was being built, but since they needed more, they cut them from farther away, where there was more snow and firm enough snow.


A man cuts snow blocks on an igloo.


A man adds a snow block to an igloo, then looks at the camera.

Director's commentary: Now, Jaiku is placing one of the big blocks of snow to complete the dome. Making the blocks all fit and hold together was an art. But in general, after a month, the igloo needed to be changed.


A group of kids are playing outside an igloo; they are sliding down a snow slope. The igloo behind has a smoking chimney and an ice window.

Director's commentary: This shows the warm air escaping from the igloo into the freezing atmosphere (it freezes hard) through a sort of small chimney. The main window is made out of two big pieces of lake ice, shaped and thinned so that it lights up the main dome. There is a small triangular window on the middle igloo, which is where they stored the frozen carcasses of meat or maybe fish. The first dome is actually the porch, where the dogs would sleep in cold spells. So we can see the dimensions of the igloos, which are very robust structures: the children could climb over the tops and not fall through.


A view of the camp: a group of kids sliding down a snow slope near an igloo, and running towards the camera. We see also a group of women looking towards the camera. Dogs are wandering around.

Director's commentary: Here you are looking at the sort of walls that serve to strengthen the igloo, insulate it from storms, and cut the wind. Because when the wind changes, there are some very cold winds that blow from the north, northwest, and northeast. The winds from the south are a little milder, but each wind brings its own dangers for the igloo; warm winds would make it melt too quickly, and by reinforcing the walls, they can make the igloo last longer before it collapses. So here, you can see the design quite clearly, with the little ramparts made of snow.


A boy is standing by an igloo, and peeking through its ice window. He then slides down a snow slope next to the igloo. The igloo has a smoking chimney.


A man is shovelling snow near an igloo.


A shot of a group of five women. One of them holds a child(toddler) in her arms and walks towards the camera. Then, a close-up of this woman with her child (she presents the child to the camera, and she is laughing).

Director's commentary: When the weather was nice and the hunters were off on a distant hunting trip, the women would often get together to work on sewing projects or other activities, and they enjoyed eating together. And they always had something for visitors. About 10% of food consumed was during visits, and about 10% of a household’s food supply was consumed by visitors. In 1956, there were no caribou in Nunavik, and the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) had reindeer skins sent from Aklavik, where they were raising reindeer from Alaska. This way the HBC could supply skins to Inuit communities that had none. Later, the caribou returned in great numbers, and now traveled as far north as the sea during their migrations.


A man is walking outside, the camera follows him as he meets kids and women standing by an igloo.


Women standing by the entrance of an igloo. One of them is holding a child (toddler), then she enters the igloo. Two mittens are drying on sticks planted in the snow blocks above the entrance.


Five women are walking in a line. They all have children in their amauti.


The same five women, seen from behind. They stop walking and turn around, looking at the camera. There is an igloo behind.


A close-up of a woman with her amauti. She smiles at the camera.


Five women walking in a line (with children in their amauti). The camera follows them as they pass behind two men (they are icing the runners of a sled) then enter an igloo.


A close-up of a woman carrying a child (toddler) in her amauti. She talks to the child and smiles at the camera.

Director's commentary: This is Lali, with her youngest in her amauti; this particular garment is not made of caribou skin.


A man is icing the runners on a sled, using a wooden block. He smiles at the camera.

Director's commentary: This is Jugini. He has covered the runners of his sled with peat, which he melted and then coats the runners with it and lets it freeze. Then he planes it to make it as smooth as possible, and once it’s smooth, this leaves a layer of ice that allows the sled to glide smoothly over both snow and ice. Before leaving on every long journey, he has to make sure that everything is in good condition so that he is not caught short; the sled is readied to move fast and glide well. It’s a little like skiers who wax their skis, but in this case, he has to rely on natural materials.


Another view of the same man, icing the sled runners. A dog sits by his side.


A close-up of the face of the man icing the sled runners. He smiles at the camera.


A close-up of the hands of a man, fixing a line on a harpoon head (for seal hunting).


A shot of two men preparing seal hunting equipment; one prepares the harpoon line, and the other inflates the avataq. They smile at the camera.

Director's commentary: Here, they were showing me how to make a float out of a ringed seal skin, which was turned inside out and sewed tightly closed with just a place for an ivory nozzle for inflating it. They tie it and that ensures they will not lose the game, whether it’s been harpooned and grievously wounded, or shot in a non vital spot so that they had to quickly harpoon it to be able to kill it.


The two same men, attaching the avataq to the harpoon line. One of the men points his finger at a fictive prey, far away on the land (they are about to mimic a hunting scene).

Director's commentary: So... here they are clowning around for me a little, and another pulling me in another direction to show me an ujjuk, which had been killed two days earlier; they have already removed the tubes of skin that would be used to make long strips to serve as traces when the dogs are attached to the sleds.


One of the men throws the harpoon, and the two men mimic the act of pulling on a harpooned seal, and fighting to bring it out of the water. They are laughing and looking at the camera.


A still shot of a dead seal, with a harpoon head and line still in it.


The hand of a woman lighting up a qulliq with a match. The wick trimmer (wooden stick) leans on the lamp.

Director's commentary: Here we can see an oil lamp; in order to be able to see what was going on, we opened up the small igloo to provide lighting, taking the same approach as Flaherty did in the 1920s.


The hand of a woman adjusting the flames on the qulliq with a wick trimmer.


A shot of the woman adjusting the flames of the qulliq. She has a child in her amauti. She speaks, adjusts her amauti, and smiles at the camera.


A woman is sitting on a bench of snow in an igloo. She is stretching a boot with a skin boot stretcher.

Director's commentary: This is Susie Alupa, I seem to remember that her husband had been taken to hospital, like a number of other Inuits, on the hospital ship the C. D. Howe. In those days when the icebreaker came, the C.D. Howe, a number of people were often diagnosed with tuberculosis and taken away. It often took six months, sometimes people had to wait until the next summer before their spouse or parents came back from the hospital. She is using a boot softener. These boots have no separate vamp, the sole wraps up over the foot like an Indian moccasin. This boot is made of bearded sealskin, a thick and waterproof skin but it is not tanned, so when it gets wet it becomes very hard, and it has to be softened with this scraper to restore its flexibility. And this was ones of the women’s jobs.


The same view of this woman, switching to another boot to stretch. Then she turns around to speak to her child in her amauti.


A shot of a woman cleaning some eiderdown. She rubs it on strings fixed with nails across the borders of a wooden box. There is a skin stretcher leaning against the igloo wall behind her.

Director's commentary: At that time, they were collecting eider duck nests – something the Inuit knew how to do – which the birds construct using their down. That’s where we get the term "eiderdown", from a wild duck. Then they rub the down over these cords stretched tight so that the dust falls through while the down, which is extremely light, gets caught on these stretched cords.


A woman is cutting a piece of a boot sole with her ulu, on a wooden bord.

Director's commentary: This is old Natsingajaq, the mother of Susie Alupa and sister-in-law of Qamuraaluk, who owned the igloo we saw being strengthened earlier. She is in the process of cutting some sealskin. This piece is for the bottom part of the boot, and will be attached to the shaft and on the other side to the boot’s sole.


A close-up of the same woman, as she is chewing a piece of boot sole to soften it (probably the piece she just cut with her ulu).

Director's commentary: But before starting to sew, she chews the edges that will be sewn, which are hard because this leather has not been tanned, so she moistens it with saliva and softens it, and this will make the needle pass through more easily.


A close-up of a sewing bag (made of bird skin), full of sinews.

Director's commentary: This is the sewing kit, made of the skin of a large loon, tuulliq, turned inside out like a rabbit skin. It makes an excellent sewing kit for keeping the sinews fresh, the sinews used as sewing thread. When they didn’t have caribou, they used sinews from beluga or various other animals.


A woman picks up a thread of sinew from the bag and softens it with her teeth.

Director's commentary: But the best sinew came from caribou, taken from the legs, which they used as thread, pulling out a few fibres to make a length of sewing thread for sewing sealskin. The sinew tends to swell up when it gets a little wet, so it makes for very good watertight seams when they are sewn with a stitch called the tunnel stitch.


A close-up of her hands as she separates the sinew threads in order to obtain one, for sewing.


Another still shot of her sewing bag full of sinews.


A close-up of her hands as she pinches and twists a single thread of sinew.


The woman starts to sew the sinew on a piece of skin.


The woman stretches and softens a piece of boot sole with her hands.


The woman softens a piece of skin with a skin softener that has a metal blade. There is a skin stretcher leaning against the wall beside her.

Director's commentary: Here, Natsingajaq is scraping a piece of bearded sealskin for making the sole, to soften it. The piece looks very big, but she is going to fold up the sides that will attach to the upper, you can see how the sole folds up and then is sewn to the small piece above and that is sewn to the shaft of the boot.


A still shot of 4-5 pairs of kamiik in an igloo, made with different materials, including seal fur and sealskin.


Four dogs are eating pieces of meat (or pieces of animal carcasses) on the snow, outside.


A view of a landscape (camera moving) in which we see two men discussing, one man looking at the sea, the flow edge and water. Then we see the land again with a kayak on the ground and some people standing.

Director's commentary: Often, when the wind blew towards the north, it pushed the ice pack out of this bay. So a span of water opened up, and a blackish cloud appeared above the horizon which was a sign that the water was open. So they would go down with their dog teams to the ice pack, called the sinaa. You can see what looks like a little cliff, you could see it from a distance, which was caused by the tides obviously, creating a sort of small cliff at the edge of the fast ice between the land and the ice pack.


A view of three men standing outside: one is working on his rifle, and the two others are chatting and smoking cigarettes.


A man walks down a snow hill, holding a rifle and smoking a cigarette. Once at the bottom, he leans the rifle on the hill, then walks towards three sleeping dogs.

Director's commentary: The hunters would climb up this rough area so they could try to spot seals when they poked their heads above the surface to breathe.


Two men are eating frozen meat, outside, using their knives. There is some boiling liquid in a metal container near them, as well as a sled.

Director's commentary: When they had killed a few, they would take the opportunity to cook some seal meat to make into a tea, or eat some raw on the spot.


A man paddles in a kayak on the sea. We can see hills behind him.

Director's commentary: This is Matiusi Kululak, who brought along his kayak to use for retrieving the seals that had been shot and wounded, or to drive the seals closer to where the hunters were standing at the edge of the ice pack. Because seals are curious. If they hear metallic sounds or whistling, they will come closer to see what is going on, what the sounds are, their hearing is highly developed.


A man in a kayak paddles towards the camera. Once very close, he smiles at the camera.

Director's commentary: And now you can see the sea is better, it’s very calm. And Matiusi comes back.


Once arrived at the flow edge, the man gets out of his kayak and steps on the ice. Another man comes and helps holding the kayak.

Director's commentary: The days are short in January. This was towards the end of January, and they had to get back before darkness made the route home more difficult, because between the flat ice pack and the shore is an area where the ice has broken and reformed, very tortuous. It makes it a little more complicated to get across with a team of dogs and a sled with a kayak attached to it, to get across safely.


Three men pull the kayak on the ground. One of them removes the ice from it with a snow knife, and another man handles a rifle.


A man is squatting outside, eating meat with his knife.

Director's commentary: So they had something to eat out on the ice before departing, the small intestine emptied of its contents; they were very fond of eating these still warm. Often they shared the raw liver, cut in pieces, and the heart also, which is eaten by the men as a source of energy and vitamins.


A man is removing ice from a kayak with his snow knife. Two other men are standing by the kayak, and another one is bent over something.


A man is disentangling the leashes of a dog team. The dogs and the dogsled are close to him.


Four men are attending their dogsleds and dog teams (we can see at least two sleds and two dog teams).

Director's commentary: And now evening is falling, and they harness up the dogs, a number of dogs, and everyone knows their own dogs, these are family dogs.


View from inside an igloo: a man comes in from the entrance hole with a bucket and a knife in his hands. He puts the bucket down and plants the knife in the snow.

Director's commentary: Qamuraaluk did not go out on the hunting grounds, he was busy consolidating his igloo, but he receives his share of the catch, including some seal fat that he takes to his daughter to feed her oil lamp. The daughter’s husband is in the hospital, and the father’s wife too, so you see, they make do by helping each other out, and since he has an igloo there he is part of the community and is entitled to his share.


Close-up of the flames of a qulliq.


A woman sits by the qulliq with a child in her amauti. She stirs some meal in a metal pot, then hangs it above the qulliq.

Director's commentary: She boils a bit of the seal meat for her youngest child, who is almost certainly close to a year old, heating it over the oil lamp. There is the child, he spends part of the day on his mother’s back.


View from inside the igloo of an ice window being scraped by an ulu attached to a wooden shaft.

Director's commentary: Because of the difference in temperature between the igloo (which is freezing, but barely) and outside, frost has formed on the ice cut from a nearby lake and thinned to make the window. There are two windows, one a little above the other, to let light into the igloo during the day.


3-4 dogsleds being pulled by dog teams. People are sitting on each sled.

Director's commentary: In March the days are a little longer, and the Inuits, or many of them, decided to head south. When I say south, I mean towards Kangirsuk, and towards a camp that I believe they called Qajartalik, where several families were going to spend the spring hunting marine mammals now that they were again accessible.


A series of shot (from a sled) of the dog team (pulling it). We eventually see the man sitting at the front of the sled and other dog teams and sleds ahead.

Director's commentary: This is Jugini again.


A view of a dogsled being pulled by a dog team. This is a view from another sled travelling beside.

Director's commentary: And here we can see Mr. Walton, who was the first federal administrator from the Department of Indian Affairs. His driver, if memory serves me, was Bob May. Bob May was the father of Mary Simon. He was based in Kuujjuaq, and worked as an interpreter, one of the few interpreters at the time. They had come up from Kuujjuaq to resolve a dispute involving the traditional marriage of a young woman apparently against her will, and essentially they were contacted and came to resolve the problem.


A view of a dog team pulling a sled, coming towards the camera.

Director's commentary: And so as they were returning south, I took the opportunity to travel with them. The missionary, Father Dion, who was until recently the last Oblate missionary stationed in Nunavik full-time, or at least in the northern communities, was heading to visit the Inuits who were already in or on their way to Qajartalik; some of the families there had already become Catholic. And then the others were carrying skins to the Hudson Bay Company trader, Jimmy Ford. That was the only way they could acquire ammunition and then perhaps flour, lard, and so forth.

Director's commentary: We are almost seven sleds and we split up before arriving to Kangirsuk to head in our separate directions. And you can see here that these are healthy dogs, well-nourished on the fat of marine mammals, and untouched by the rabies epidemic that affected the dogs in the communities further south.



1. Commentary [PDF 244.92kB]

PDF files require the Adobe Acrobat Reader, available here.