Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Renowned Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq had often been approached to collaborate on a documentary about her life.
But Tagaq, a 47-year-old who was born in Nunavut but who now primarily lives in Toronto, had turned down all those previous offers.
That was until her friend Chelsea McMullan asked Tagaq whether she would be interested in making a film together.
Tagaq agreed to do so in large part because she had seen and loved McMullan’s previous work.
The end result is Ever Deadly, a 90-minute doc that had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this past Friday (Sept. 9).
Though she had declined previous offers to have a film made about her life, Tagaq decided to give McMullan a chance.
“I knew of their work through a documentary called My Prairie Home that they did with Rae Spoon,” Tagaq said. “And I also knew of them through Rae. I decided when I was approached that we could have a meeting. I always like to have a meeting in person with people to make sure that we’re going to be compatible because when you start a project this large you want to make sure that you get along with everybody.
“We met and right away we got along really well and we’ve developed a really lovely friendship throughout the process of making the film.”
McMullan said they were instantly blown away by Tagaq when they first saw her perform live, perhaps as many as eight years ago in Toronto.
And McMullan was even happier when Tagaq agreed to work with them.
“I approached her with the idea of collaborating together on a film,” they said. “I’m not sure if that’s how other people approached her, but I think she was also really interested in making a film together. And she is a great filmmaker and has amazing film instincts so it was amazing to collaborate with her on it.”
Ever Deadly combines Tagaq concert footage with scenes filmed on location in Nunavut. McMullan said Tagaq insisted on it.
“She had such a clear vision for what the film should be and that was one of the very first things she brought up,” said McMullan, a Toronto resident, who travelled to Nunavut for a handful of summers to get footage with Tagaq. “She said ‘we have to go to my home and we have to film these places. This is where the music comes from. These are my influences.’ So, it was a complete non-negotiable right from the beginning, which I was obviously excited about.”
Tagaq’s stories and songs throughout Ever Deadly feature a mix of pain, anger and triumph. Tagaq felt it was vital to make Ever Deadly so people could have a better understanding of her career and herself.
“One of the main reasons the documentary was important was to try to encapsulate the feeling in the concerts,” she said. “They’re all improvised so I noticed people would take photos or take small snippets of the show. I’d get frustrated because it would appear very out of context to what happens throughout the whole narration of the improvisation.”
And giving viewers glimpses of her personal background were also key.
“For step one we wanted to get concert footage but as the film progressed I thought it would be very important to include the land,” Tagaq said. “First and foremost, it was the land of where I’m from. I’m from Nunavut, an isolated place where you can’t take a highway to another town.”
Tagaq’s family members, including her mother who is interviewed in her Indigenous language, offer their thoughts in the film.
“We were very happy with how that turned out,” Tagaq said. “My family opened up to Chelsea and the team.”
Tagaq had been spending most of her summers in Nunavut. This year she returned to Toronto mere days before Ever Deadly’s world premiere, having just spent six weeks in the northern territory.
“We were here (in Toronto) for a long time because of COVID, so I didn’t get to go home for maybe two-and-a-half years,” she said. “That was way too long. It was a great visit at home. I feel much better now. I can handle the city again.”
Though Ever Deadly took several years to complete, Tagaq was pleased with the final product.
“As in all work I do, like I’ll release an album and then listen to it and go, ‘Oh I would have changed that and I would have changed that,’” she said. “As you progress and time goes by, you change as a person and as an artist. So, you could work indefinitely, or I could work indefinitely, on one project that would just keep morphing. But I am happy with what (the doc) was for its time and I’m already excited to do something else.”
Besides the Toronto festival, Ever Deadly will also be shown in several other locations.
Next up is the Cinefest Sudbury International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 17 to Sept. 25.
It will also play at the Calgary International Film Festival (Sept. 22 to Oct. 2), Lunenberg Doc Festival in Nova Scotia (Sept. 22 to Sept. 28) and the Vancouver International Film Festival (Sept. 29 to Oct. 9).
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.