Mosha Michael

Thousandsuns
Cinema

Mosha Michael © Rosemary Gilliat Eaton / Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds

Mosha Michael (Inuk: 1948–2009) was a trailblazing filmmaker, musician, and visual artist born in Iqaluit ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ, the capital city of Nunavut ᓄᓇᕗᑦ, located in the Everett Mountains, a subrange of the Arctic Cordillera. His films are imbued with a rare precision and poetic intimacy, underlining the artist’s close relationship with his subjects. After contracting tuberculosis at age three, Michael spent considerable time at hospitals and sanatoriums in Southwestern Ontario recovering from his condition. He was subsequently sent to the Churchill Residential School, a former military base in Fort Churchill, Manitoba, funded by the Federal Government of Canada. More than 1,800 Indigenous children were forced to attend this school before it closed in 1973. Michael is frequently referred to as Canada’s first Inuk filmmaker. After returning to Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay), he was photographed holding a camera by photojournalist Rosemary Eaton. In 1974, Michael participated in a Super 8 workshop led by the National Film Board of Canada. A year later, at twenty-five, he released Natsik Hunting (1975), with a soundtrack co-composed and performed by artist Etulu Etidloie. With no extant catalogue of his work, it is difficult to estimate the full range of Michael’s artistic output. The NFB credits him with three short films: Natsik Hunting (1975), Asivaqtiin/The Hunters (1977) and Qilaluganiatut/Whale Hunting (1977). In the following years, Michael worked at the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. He was also a camera operator and assistant on several productions in Puvirnituq, Nunavik, Montréal, and Ottawa. He moved to Toronto in 1985 to study photography at Toronto Metropolitan University. When those efforts were thwarted, he pivoted to jewelry making. His work was later featured in the Ontario Arts Council’s Guild Shop and gallery. Mosha Michael died unhoused in Toronto at St. Michael’s Hospital in 2009. 

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Natsik Hunting, 7 min, 1975; Asivaqtiin/The Hunters, 13 min, 1977
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Natsik Hunting, 7 min, 1975

Mosha Michael made an assured directorial debut with this seven-minute short, a relaxed, narration-free depiction of an Inuk seal hunt. Having participated in a 1974 Super 8 workshop in Frobisher Bay, Michael shot and edited the film himself. His voice can be heard on the appealing guitar-based soundtrack…. Natsik Hunting is believed to be Canada’s first Inuk-directed film. – NFB

Asivaqtiin/The Hunters, 13 min, 1977

Michael offers a first-hand account of a three-week Arctic hunting excursion, a rehabilitative trip undertaken by young offenders and their families. Dropping anchor at various points throughout Frobisher Bay, they fish for cod, hunt for seal and caribou, and renew family and community ties. Shooting on a Super 8 camera and providing his own narration, Michael crafts an engaging document of Inuk life in the 1970s. An original score features performances by Kowmageak Arngnakolak and Michael himself. – NFB

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A year later, the English Program—again with the support of the Ministry of Indian and Northern Affairs—launched a documentary workshop in Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit), simply called the Frobisher Bay Workshop. It is hard to confirm exactly how many Inuit filmmakers participated in this workshop and how many films came out of it. But we do know about three films for sure: Natsik Hunting (1975), Whale Hunting/Qilaluganiatut (1977), and Asivaqtiin/The Hunters (1977). The heritage value of these films—which were shot, edited, narrated, and directed by Mosha Michael—is priceless. They are the first documentaries by an Inuk filmmaker, making Michael the first Inuk documentarian in Canada. – Marc St-Pierre

Read Inuit Cinema at the NFB I Curator’s Perspective at the NFB.  

All stills, photographs, and artwork courtesy © Mosha Michael, National Film Board of Canada and the Rosemary Gilliat Eaton / Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds / Library and Archives Canada. Screening co-presented with NFB.

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