An untold Inuk story in the making

Last December, Lindsay McIntyre, a filmmaker of Inuk and Scottish descent won the Women In the Director’s Chair’s (WIDC) Feature Film Award. Estimated at $250,000 in services and rentals, the prize will support the making of her first feature film The Words We Can’t Speak, expected for 2024.

“It’s a story about identity and belonging, about feeling like an outsider in certain places. I think it will resonate with all kinds of people that have been displaced from somewhere, or who experienced a clash of cultures,” says McIntyre.

Lindsay McIntyre is a filmmaker of Inuk and Scottish descent. | Photo courtesy of Lindsay McIntyre

This period piece, set in the 1930s, follows an Inuk translator named Kumaa’naaq in her dangerous 1800-mile trip from the Arctic to the Prairies, forced to leave her community after a terrible accident.

“It is the resilience and the strength of Kumaa’naaq, despite all the hardships she encounters through her journey, that inspired me,” explains McIntyre who will draw on the real-life events experienced by her Inuk great grandmother, Kumaa’naaq.

As the voice of her community while translating for the RCMP, Kumaa’naaq is caught between the Inuk and Qallunaat worlds (‘non-inuit’ in Inuktitut).

“[She will have to] choose whether to speak or not to speak, whether to follow her Inuk ways or to lean more heavily on the Qallunaat’s ways,” adds the director.

Re-privileging Inuit voices

McIntyre says her films always come from a personal place as she only feels comfortable telling stories that are hers.

“I make films to process things that I’m dealing with. Maybe it’s my own personal therapy,” she shares. “This story has been very important to me for a long time.”

But the movie will go beyond herself and her ancestry, as she points out that the story tells “a really important part of Canadian history that is often overlooked.”

“I want people to have a different and better understanding of that timeframe in the Arctic, which comes from Inuit perspective, instead of coming from the explorers that we traditionally hear. It’s about re-privileging [Inuit] voices,” McIntyre stresses.

As she considers that her great grandmother’s story also belongs to Inuit, she plans on extensive consultation and collaboration with community members in Nunavut before shooting the movie.

“It’s really important to me that the film serves the purpose of the community, not just mine,” she says.

McIntyre states that one third of the movie will be shot in Inuit Nunangat, hopefully in the community where the original story occurred. In this spirit of participation and collaboration with Inuit communities, the director also hopes to involve Inuit in the filmmaking process as part of an extensive mentorship program.

“I really like to help people gain skills and empower them to tell their own stories. It’s my job to hold open the door for others as I walk through it,” she comments.

Opening the door to Indigenous women directors

Coming from an experimental short film background, McIntyre is switching things up with The Words We Can’t Speak, which will be her first narrative feature film. She admits it won’t be an easy task.

“Making a feature film is very expensive and challenging. It takes a lot of gumption to think you can entertain people for hours and to believe that your story is important enough to call for all these resources and energy,” she shares. “That’s why the support coming from the WIDC Feature Film Award means the world to me. It’s a huge vote of confidence in me and in the story.”

Granted once a year by the Creative Women Workshops Association, the national WIDC Feature Film Award aims to “develop, support, and advance the voices, talents, and screen fiction projects of Canadian women directors” as described by Carol Whiteman, producer and co-creator of the WIDC program.

Whiteman explains that women filmmakers are deeply underrepresented in Canada and around the world. This is even more true for those coming from racialized communities, including Indigenous directors.

“Indigenous women face added barriers – racism, missing and murdered Indigenous women – just to feel safe and to be able to tell one’s story, to find the path to resources and to support a career in this very elite industry,” she points out.

For Whiteman, recognizing these additional obstacles for racialized women filmmakers also calls for the association to take actions internally, such as holding equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) workshops led by Indigenous and Black women at the beginning of each program.

Having a plurality of voices is crucial and McIntyre winning the WIDC Feature Film Award goes in that direction, Whiteman declares.

“Lindsay is an artistic voice of our time that we need to support and hear from. She sees the world in a particular way, and we will all benefit to see more of what she sees,” she concludes.

For more information on the film The Words We Can’t Speak and the WIDC feature film award visit:

To learn more about Lindsay McIntyre’s artistic works: