According to Inuit oral history, long ago animals had the power of speech, could shift their appearances, and could even assume human form. In The Orphan and the Polar Bear, a neglected orphan is adopted by a polar bear elder. Under the bear’s guidance, the little orphan learns the skills he will need to survive and provide for himself.
9 minutes, 2D animation
I have been gathering traditional Inuit stories for over 15 years. But when I encountered Sakiasi Qaunaq’s version of “The Orphan and the Polar Bear” in Arctic Bay, Nunavut, I knew this was a special story. This folktale contains so many of the story themes that you find in Inuit traditional stories—the mistreated orphan, supernatural intervention when someone is being abused, animals that can assume hidden form, and so forth. As well, this story gives you a glimpse of how Inuit traditionally felt about polar bears. In The Orphan and the Polar Bear, you can see the polar bear elder felt compassion for the orphan, and possessed wisdom and skills (which he passed on to the orphan). And you can see that polar bear youth had similar respect for their elders as Inuit did. How polar bears are represented in this story is in stark contrast to the wolves in my last film, Amaqqut Nunaat: The Country of Wolves. There you see savage animals that have no respect for kith or kin.
I enjoy working in Inuit oral history and with traditional stories, as I feel there is more truth and meaning buried in these stories than I ever found in the history books I read in school.
In this film, I wanted to move you through this story as if it were almost embedded in the old ice. There seems to be a strange connection between the melting of the Arctic ice and the erosion of Inuit traditional culture and values. Something very important is disappearing, and not enough people are paying attention.
Directed by Neil Christopher
Produced by Louise Flaherty and Neil Christopher
Based on the book The Orphan and the Polar Bear by Sakiasi Qaunaq, published by Inhabit Media
Screenplay by Neil Christopher
Narrated by Johnny Issaluk
Awards and Nominations:
- 2015 Yorkton Film Festival (Yorkton, SK, Canada) – Best Director (for Fiction) Winner
- 2015 Praxis Film Festival (Raleigh, NC, USA) – Audience Award, Animation Winner
- 2014 West Chester Film Festival (West Chester, PA, USA) – Best Animated Film Winner
- 2014 Roseville Festival of Film & Animation (Roseville, CA, USA) – Audience Favorite, Animated Short Winner
- 2014 Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults (Auburn, Australia) – Best Short Film for Children Winner
- 2014 Fort McMurray International Film Festival (Fort McMurray, AB, Canada) – Best Animation Winner
- 2014 Montreal First Peoples’ Festival (Montreal, QC, Canada) – Best Animation Winner
- 2014 Mount Dora Family Film Festival (Mount Dora, FL, USA) – Best Animated Short Winner
- 2014 SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival (Providence, RI, USA) – Audience Choice Award for Best Animated Film Winner
- 2015 Long Island International Film Expo – Nominated for Best Animation
- 2016 CreActive International Open Film Festival (Dhaka, Bangladesh)
- 2015 New Films Festival (Espinho, Portugal) – Screened as part of Best of Montreal International Animated Film Festival, Directors
- 2014 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (Toronto, ON, Canada) – Honourable Mention, Canadian Short Drama
- 2019 Nuuk International Film Festival (Nuuk, Greenland)
- 2020 Freeze Frame International Film Festival for Kids of All Ages (Winnipeg, MB, Canada)
Original illustrations for The Orphan and the Polar book: