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directed by Zacharias Kunuk
Canada 2001

Once every now and then a movie comes along that distinguishes itself by its rare quality of uniqueness. In 2001 one such movie won the “ Camera d’Or “ award in Cannes and is now a huge success financially and artistically in Manhattan, especially in the art house circuits. According to Nelson EDI, from its American opening on June 7, the movie has grossed over $1.75 million dollars and as of July 11 the movie is continuing to do extremely well in about 37 screens. “ It has been huge for foreign language film“ states Jeff Lipsky of Lot 47 the American distributor for the film.

Atanarjuat ( The Fast Runner ) is a very absorbing Canadian made movie directed by Canadian Inuit Zacharias Kunuk. The movie was made with help from the Aboriginal Filmmaking Program of the National Film Board of Canada. It is the first feature movie made in Inuktitut, the language of the Igloolik people and stars a complete Inuit cast. It is also unique in having been shot entirely on Baffin Island in the Arctic.

Atanarjuat is based on an Inuit legend that has been told and transmitted by the oral tradition of the Inuit people for thousands of years. The story revolves around the bitter rivalry between the sons of two strong Inuit leaders. Atanarjuat and Amagjuaq, sons of Tulimaq are excellent hunters and popular in the group. They are deeply resented by Sauri’s son Oki who is a non-achiever and very resentful of the two brothers. Oki’s jealousy turns into thoughts of murder especially when Atanarjuat becomes engaged to Atuat, who from her birth had been promised in marriage to Oki. This is further complicated when Atanarjuat falls for the advances of Puja the camp temptress.

Oki and his friends exact vengeance including brutal and deathly violence under the peace and stillness of the Arctic. Some of the most remarkable scenes and events follow soon after the murderous act committed by Oki and his friends – a long and desperate run for safety by a bare-footed and totally naked man on the Arctic ice ( hence, the Fast Runner ) is probably the most breath-taking of the many scenes.

The movie therefore, can easily be construed as a murder thriller in a very unusual setting, but it is much more than this. It is a story of love and hate; tradition and community lore; good vs.evil; God and man and especially the role of spirits-shamans- in people’s lives. These are themes that are common to every culture from time immemorial. It is the story of real people with real human qualities, behaviours, foibles and failures be they residents of New York City, London or the frozen Arctic tundra! The commonality of the life, legends and behavior of the Inuit people with our own lives is more striking than their differences. Only the addresses are different.

On the technical side, the cinematography shot in digital video is simply breathtaking. Many, if not all of the scenes of the Arctic are quite awesome and awe inspiring. While the running time of the movie is three hours, the acting combined with the absolute natural beauty of the snow, sky and the mid-night sun make the hours speed by fast.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed the movie not only for its story, acting and technical merits but most of all because it gave me a better understanding of a unique people and culture. Dealing with human life and behavior as the film does, it banishes all the stereotypes about Inuit people and hopefully, of all native peoples. They are not exotic creatures confined to exotic locations like the Arctic but real women, men, children and elders who have and express feelings, emotions, wants, needs and desires like you and me.

Albert Michael


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DVD Comparison:

Alliance Atlantis (2 disc set) - Region 1 - NTSC vs. Columbia Tri-Star - Region 1 - NTSC

(Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC - LEFT vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - RIGHT)

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Alliance Atlantis

Region 1  - NTSC

Columbia Tri-Star 
Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 2:47:35 2:41:10

1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio 16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.81 mb/s
NTSC 704x480 29.97 f/s

1.85:1 Original Aspect Ratio  16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 5.22
NTSC 704x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.






Audio Inuktitut (Dolby Digital 5.1),  Inuktitut (Dolby Digital 2.0)

Inuktitut (Dolby Digital 5.1)

Subtitles English, French and none Non Removable Yellow English subtitles
Features Release Information:
Studio: Alliance Atlantis
Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 2001

Aspect Ratios:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.85:1

Edition Details:

  • 2 discs
  • Fast track -In place of a commentary tracks it presents facts about the making of the film, about the cast, characters, the Igloolik society.
  • 'Photo Gallery' - 17 static color images
  • Non-anamorphic widescreen trailer - 2:47
  • 'About Igloolik Isuma'- 7 static text screens with images
  • The Legend on the Land - 12 points on a map when each is clicked images and scrolling text tell a story
  • 'Film-making Inuit Style' - 7 static screen with images and text
  • Cast Characters and Crew - Cast bios, Crew Bios, static screens of Family Trees
  • Art Direction - 7 static screen with text and images
  • 'Production Diary' - Non-anamorphic widescreen Clips untitled:
    Natar Ungallaq
    'Inuit Style' - :22
    'Being naked on the Ice' - :25
    Sylvia Ivalu
    'Shooting the Scene When the Murder is Discovered'- :20
    'How Hard Life Must Have Been Back Then' - :38
    Zacharis Kunuk
    'Film-making from an Inuit Point of View' - :48
    'How Southern Film-makers get it Wrong' - :44
    'Behind the Scenes'- 2:03

DVD Release Date: January, 2003
Keep Case

Chapters 30

Release Information:
Studio: Columbia Tri-star 
Theatrical Release Date: January 1, 2001

Aspect Ratios:
Widescreen anamorphic  - 1.85:1

Edition Details:

• Trailers:

'Lagan' - Pan and Scan - 2:17
'Lawrence of Arabia'  - widescreen anamorphic - 4:39
'Limbo' - Pan and Scan - 2:32

DVD Release Date: February 11, 2003
Keep Case

Chapters 28



Comments: I am asking for someone at Alliance Atlantis to be fired. What a travesty! This is what I was afraid of with these two editions. One has great Extra Features but a sloppy picture and the other is bare bones, burned in subs and a much better picture quality... arghhhhh.  Ohh yeah, the Columbia is 6 minutes shorter... what gives.  Is Criterion the only one who takes pride in their work? True fans will have to get both but if you only want to see the film then its the Columbia Tri-Star until I can figure out what they have done with 6 minutes of the film. Somebody's colors are way of too... my guess would be Alliance. The captures below more than adequately tell the story of the image quality and the extras are all listed above. Alliance - Pan and Scan  The Straight Story', Full Frame 'The Red Violin' and this... Great eh! <sarcasm>  

P.S. The Alliance looks horizontally cropped a little to boot... sheeeeesh                                                - Gary W. Tooze

ADDED - Aug - 04

Hi Gary, I'm the producer/cameraman for Atanarjuat The Fast Runner and just saw your comments on the DVD comparison between the AAC (Canadian) and the CTHE (USA) DVD's HERE .

The difference between them, and in the running time, is easily explained, if a bit long-winded. Atanarjuat was shot in 1999 with the first generation Sony Digital betacam 16:9 video camera, at the 30 frames per second format of conventional video. we created an original video master before finally transferring to 35mm film. The original video master has a running time of 161 minutes, and is - even in first generation 1999 digibeta - very high quality video: sharp, bright, beautiful colors etc. In fact, because Zacharias Kunuk and I were experienced videomakers (and not filmmakers) when we made the film, Atanarjuat is really the first deliberate 'video' to be released and treated as a mainstream film. What the difference means is another long conversation but suffice it to say that it explains a lot about our film that people see but often don't understand why they see it.

The digital transfer process from video (30 fps) to film (24 fps) at that time actually required a form of "stretching" which elongates the picture and sound imperceptibly but over the course of a long film actually added about 7 minutes to the length. So in fact, the video master of 161 minutes becomes a film of 168 minutes although the picture and sound remain (apparently) identical. Nothing is missing from the video version but instead the film version has extra frames added to it that no one can see.

We urged both Alliance Atlantis and Columbia Tri-star to use the original video master for its DVD, knowing as good videomakers, that the electronic video original will look best when viewed on an electronic TV screen.

The alternative choice - and the more conventional choice in the industry even now - would be to 'make' a video from the 35mm film version of the film, that is, a 'telecine' from the film interpositive, which itself was already a twice removed copy from the original first generation digibeta image. We knew that going from digibeta to 35mm negative to 35mm interpositive to telecine video master to DVD would give more 'film look' to the result, but that in fact this film look was really another term for describing a degraded picture four generations removed from the original.

Alliance Atlantis chose the more conventional film look and used the telecine from the 35mm version for its DVD.

Columbia actually tried the film look telecine as well but in their case it couldn't pass their quality control evaluation, which is understandable because the process of transfer-transfer-retransfer-transfer obviously imports more technical faults than simply showing the original first generation technically perfect master.

When CTHE couldn't get the telecine past quality control we urged them once again to use the original video master which they did.

That's the difference.

I doubt if anyone from Alliance Atlantis was actually fired for their decision (it's Canada, after all) but I hope someone at Columbia got promoted for theirs.

DVD Menus

Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC - LEFT vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - RIGHT)


Screen Captures

(Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC- TOP vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

(Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC- TOP vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

(Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC- TOP vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

(Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC- TOP vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

(Alliance Atlantis R1 - NTSC- TOP vs. Columbia Tri-Star R1 - NTSC - BOTTOM)

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Columbia Tri-Star



Extras: Alliance Atlantis
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Alliance Atlantis

Region 1  - NTSC

Columbia Tri-Star 
Region 1 - NTSC














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