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Hit show looks to second season
Inuit Broadcasting Corporation thrilled with popularity of Inuktitut youth TV program

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Often confused for TV's Inuk Qablunaaq, actor Thomas Johnston is frequently stopped on the street to ask whether he's the cousin of the star of Inuit Broadcasting Corporation's hit show Qanurli? (What Now?), and if he's really moving to Vancouver.

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Vinnie Karetak stars as Nipangi Suitaq, sidekick to Inuk Qablunaaq on Inuit Broadcasting Corporation's popular show, Qanurli? (What Now?). A second season is in production. - Photo courtesy of Kath Clarida/Inuit Broadcasting Corporation

"He has more Facebook friends than the real person," Johnston says of Inuk, his alter ego, who has marked up 1,200 fans across Canada since September. "It comes from people of all ages. I had a really old lady stop me the other day. When I'm walking by, kids scream out, (sings) Inuk Qablunaaq Show! A lot of the time I have to explain 'TV isn't real, we're actors.' But all age groups are enjoying the show, which is good."

Qanurli?, IBC's youth program that airs on APTN, wrapped its first season Dec. 1, and the second season is in production.

"The show was devised in conjunction with a youth advisory group," said executive producer Kath Clarida, who calls the comedy show a mix of "30 Rock combined with Survivorman to make something the youth would watch."

The focus of the all-Inuktitut show was to strengthen culture and language in a watchable program; it seems to be working.

"We all know the issues around language in the home, and young people not speaking as much Inuktitut as they should," Clarida said. "'Qanurli?' has a massive fan base, and when we put up the trailer for (the Nov. 24 show), his generator goes down in the show and people were freaking out, worried that the show wasn't going to happen."

The programme has a dramatic story line that runs throughout the series and focuses on Inuk's efforts to start a TV show that features him living on the land.

"I challenge him to go live in the tent for some time," says Vinnie Karetak, who portrays Inuk's friend Nipangi Suituq, "and then I keep saying, 'Come home because you're going to fail anyway.' Not to put him down it's just the type of way we communicate with each other."

It's a fresh view of Inuit humour on TV, the Canadian North sales manager says.

"People can relate to the type of comedy we use," he said. "We sit around and talk and laugh and make fun of each other, and be OK with it. Being able to have friends like that is great to be part of."

For Karetak, it's critical to speak the language of the youth the show targets.

"We understand what they're going through, and having their stories shared across the North brings people closer because some of their story is what we're portraying," he said.

As part of the writing team, Johnston and Karetak do this by addressing issues facing Inuit youth.

"Our storylines are written around the theme to make people laugh while we talk about serious issues," Johnston said one storyline affirms support for Nunavut's young parents. "We show what it's like in real life and make it visible."

It's also a way to encourage continued use of Inuktitut in the face of English media dominance.

"For young people in the west, who have lost their language, it's a mindshift for them to see other young people speaking Inuktitut," Clarida said. "In many communities in the west, it's considered the old people's language."

"All the young people that watch our show get to see these two semi-crazy guys speaking over CB (radio) all-Inuktitut all the time," Johnston said. "Most of our viewers already speak Inuktitut well, and I just hope it encourages them to speak it more."

The second season will pick up where the first left off, with Inuk and Nipangi getting a TV deal for their show within the show.

"I'm just really glad that the people have taken really well to the TV show we've put together," Karetak added. "Often the script is put together the night before or that day, just having fun. To be allowed to do that and put it on air is great."

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