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Controversy on the Northwest Passage

He is proud of a lot of things in his documentary, Passage, but a highlight for John Walker was...


He is proud of a lot of things in his documentary, Passage, but a highlight for John Walker was bringing together the great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens and Inuit statesman Tagak Curley.

“It was a moment I didn’t realize would happen,” said the Halifax-based filmmaker. “This was a direct link to Charles Dickens, the man who maligned these people.”

The moment the two men met brought Walker’s documentary full circle, reconnecting history with the present.

The documentary — which is one of five NFB films premiering at the Hot Doc festival in Toronto — examines historical claims Sir John Franklin discovered the Northwest Passage on his ill-fated last voyage through the arctic.

In the documentary, Walker shows it was actually John Rae, a Scottish doctor, who discovered the passage years later, and reported signs that Franklin’s men resorted to cannibalism to survive.

His claim shocked Victorian England, where Charles Dickens and others refuted Rae’s assertion, and labelled the Inuit as murderous cannibals.

“This is the beginning where media was being used to influence public opinion,” Walker said. “They nailed John Rae, who came back with this story of cannibalism, in the media.”

It was Fatal Passage, the book by Ken McGoogan about Franklin and Rae that first interested Walker in making this documentary.

“It was the elements; a big epic story, a story about imperialism and the blindness of the empire to those on the margins that interested me. I saw that as very relevant to our times — like Washington’s view of Iraq, Afghanistan.”

 
 
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