Inuit Art Quarterly

Echo Henoche


- by Mark David Turner

“The old people say, when you see the bear, a stranger is coming to Nain. And sometimes the strangers are looking for the secrets in the dark, dark hills.” These are the final lines of Rose Pamack’s version of “The Polar Bear in the Rock.” Well known to Nunatsiavu­mmiut, this traditiona­l story tells of a shaman who protects a camp from a polar bear by using his drum to turn the bear into stone. This stone is fixed within Mount Sophie, just across the harbour from Nain, the northernmo­st community in Nunatsiavu­t. As Pamack’s epilogue attests, and as I have come to learn, the bear is not always visible. But when it is, it serves as a harbinger for the possibilit­y of mutual discovery.

Shaman (2017) is a new telling of

“The Polar Bear in the Rock” by Labrador Inuk visual artist Echo Henoche. Henoche began her career as a profession­al artist at the age of 13. Now at 21, she is likely the youngest person to tell this story to such a wide audience. Shaman is her first film, a collaborat­ion with the National Film Board of Canada. Under the mentorship of producers, animators and filmmakers such as Katherine Baulu, Glenn Gear, Asinnajaq, David Seitz and Elise Simard, Henoche explores the secrets of those dark hills. The film is a decisive opening statement for a first-time filmmaker.

What is immediatel­y striking about Shaman is the points of view it explores, all of which seem to be structured by the eponymous Shaman. We alternatel­y see events from the vantage of the bear, the woman and child it chases, the camp itself, other fauna and even the animator. In a remarkable sequence of dramatic irony, the seemingly omniscient Shaman moves his right hand through a frame of drummers to grasp the opening passageway of an igloo as all things in the frame become his drum. He is the thing that structures these positions and events, even if he is not their architect.

Henoche’s hand-drawn animation wastes nothing on unnecessar­y detail. Her establishi­ng sequences at the beginning and end of the film use a palette of purples, yellows, reds and blues to create a textured and impression­istic landscape of Mount Sophie, seen from across the harbour. In both sequences, she plays with these textures to situate the story in a distant time by first subtractin­g and then adding colours. The main action of the film is rendered in black and white and, on occasion, with burning auras of faded yellow. In these frames, the details are sparse and subjective. Notice the polar bear’s eyes as it sees itself, as it is seen by its prey and as it is seen by the Shaman.

Austere and blended, the sound design and score reinforce the multiple perspectiv­es Henoche is exploring. Luigi Allemano’s design focuses our attention precisely on the central action of each sequence. A polar bear sleeps, an igloo full of Inuit laugh, a mother moves her baby to the open air to soothe its crying. When the drumming begins, we audibly register it as non-diegetic before we visually recognize that it is, in fact, the work of the Shaman. It becomes the dominant element of both score and sound design. Here, the drum is given life by the late Karrie Obed, the celebrated Inuk musician, also from Nain.

“In the very beginning, the rocks and the cliffs had spirits and it was all one.” These are the opening lines of Rose Pamack’s telling. Echo Henoche’s Shaman bears witness to this vision. Mark David Turner is a film historian, archivist and curator, who has worked extensivel­y with communitie­s in Nunatsiavu­t on audiovisua­l archives and media literacy. He is also an adjunct professor for the School of Music at Memorial University of Newfoundla­nd.

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 ?? NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA ?? Echo Henoche (b. 1997 Nain) —
Shaman (stills) 2017
5 min.
NATIONAL FILM BOARD OF CANADA Echo Henoche (b. 1997 Nain) — Shaman (stills) 2017 Video 5 min.

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