The personal and the political get intertwined in Arctic Defenders, a documentary that finds veteran Canadian filmmaker John Walker descending on the remote, icy expanse of Resolute Bay in Nunavut – a location he’d first visited as a young man in the 1960s. Back then, Walker was excited to measure the distance between himself and an exotic, foreign culture he’d only heard about second-hand.
Nearly 50 years later, his explicit goal is to inform viewers about the treacherous path to sovereignty and autonomy walked by the region’s indigenous inhabitants. This he does by letting Inuit leaders tell their stories – many of which are unflattering to several successive Canadian federal administrations – in their own words.
The sheer accumulation of details in the anecdotes is revelatory, yet Arctic Defenders is only intermittently compelling.
Even as Walker takes a few well-aimed shots at the simplistic tactics of vintage NFB documentaries about “Eskimo” life, his film doesn’t exactly break old moulds – it’s sensitive, competently assembled and plodding.