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Dr. Ruth Buchanan
Osgoode Hall Law School, York University
Dr Rebecca Johnson
University of Victoria

The apocaplytic film genre has thrived in the 21st century.  Just as the end of the Cold War rendered the ‘atomic bomb’ genre somewhat obsolete (at least in its bipolar geopolitical version), terrorism and the climate crisis have given Hollywood scriptwriters plenty of potentially disastrous futuristic scenarios with which to mesmerize and terrify audiences. The time of the apocalypse is always ‘to come’—it is an imagined, a projected scenario of disaster or series of disasters that ends life (and law) as we know it on earth.  These scenarios are terrifying—yet afterwards, we leave the cinema intact, hopeful that we might still escape the fate of the unfortunates depicted on screen. But what if the apocalypse had already happened? What if life and law had already come to a definitive end.  What would the role of cinema be then?  Is it even possible to imagine a cinematic depiction of end times ‘after the fact’? This is the scenario faced by indigenous communities in North America, and it has given rise to a distinctive new cinematic form, one which performs the impossible task of cinematically conjuring the world which has  already been destroyed.

We explore these themes in this paper primarily through a close reading of the work of Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk and particularly his second film “The Journals of Knud Rasmussen”.  Between 1921 and 1924, Rasmussen, a Dane fluent in Inuktitut, travelled across the Arctic, gathering stories and songs from Inuit communities.  The film draws on those journals to reimagine these encounters from an Inuit perspective, entirely in Inuktitut, inviting the viewer into an Inuit world of the early twentieth century just in the moment that it is experiencing what might be described as an apocalyptic encounter with the non-Inuit world.

Dr Buchanan is Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto. An interdisciplinary legal scholar whose work spans critical legal theory, sociology of law and cultural legal studies, Dr. Buchanan’s scholarship has engaged with a wide range of topics including social movements and resistance to globalization, indigenous law and legal pluralism, law and film. She collaborates frequently with legal scholars in Canada and internationally. Professor Buchanan co-edited the collections Law in Transition: Human Rights, Development and Transitional Justice (2014) with Peer Zumbansen and Reading Modern Law: Critical Methodologies and Sovereign Formations (2012) with Sundhya Pahuja and Stewart Motha. In 2018, Professor Buchanan was awarded a SSHRC Insight grant for her project, “Visualizing Law and Development”, which considers the variety of visual mechanisms through which knowledge about development is produced and disseminated by international institutions.

Rebecca Johnson is a Professor of Law, and Associate Director of the Indigenous Law Research Unit at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. Her research interests are marked by cross-disciplinarity and collaboration, and include such topics as judicial dissent, Indigenous legal methodologies, family formation, mothers and babies in prison, and Inuit law-and-film. She is part of the Testify! Indigenous Laws + the Arts collective, and has worked on the development of the TRC-inspired blog #ReconciliationSyllabus. She currently teaches Law-and-Film, Legal Theory, Business Associations, and Indigenous Law: Research, Method & Practice.

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