TIFF 2017: There Is a House Here

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There is a House Here is your standard wandering interview documentary, traversing through the town of Igluik, Nunavut to pose questions to the Inuit denizens about their lives, their homes, and their culture. Though there are moments of levity and optimism, the film is mostly a harrowing and depressing look at cultural extinction and childhood trauma.

The film opens with director Alan Zweig meeting his main subject and guide through Igluik, Inuk rock singer Lucie Idlout. The two had been corresponding for years, and Zweig finally decided that he had to travel to the town and witness for himself the kinds of tragedies that Lucie had described to him. To serve that goal, it is obvious that Zweig approached the filming of There is a House Here with a cavalier attitude – one might even go so far as to say, “unprepared”. His early interviews with the locals are resounding duds. Just walking up to houses and knocking on doors asking for interviews is not the best way to gain your subjects’ trust.

This is an intentional choice by Zweig, but it is not clear that it is a wise one. The result of such a lack of organization is that the journey feels haphazard and slapdash, as the crew wander from one interview to the next, oftentimes only meeting a new person through a referral from the person they’re currently interviewing. For Zweig, this is a way to convey the wide-eyed innocence (and some might say, “ignorance”) of a white man, as his understanding of the Inuk culture is built up piece by piece.

But, I bristle at an early moment when Zweig is asked, point-blank, what his film is about. He can’t answer, and instead offers a bromide about not being sure what story he is telling yet. This kind of explorative storytelling certainly can work in the world of the documentary, but better serves on-going stories or undercover exposes. To take this planless approach to such a well-established subject feels a tad naive.

That being said, it sometimes pays off. Zweig stumbles upon a particularly excitable man showing off his hunting technique in a living room, and the most affecting moment of the film, is allowed to capture a seal hunt. These sequences help portray the joy of the Inuk culture, but because of Zweig’s slap-dash approach, they feel more accidental that revelatory.