Set in Canada’s Hudson Bay, Joel Heath’s People of a Feather observes the Inuit peoples as their trade — selling eider duck feathers as down — is jeopardized by hydroelectric dams whose operations endanger the ducks in the bay.
Though the science behind this ecosystem change is clearly conveyed, Heath never puts together a larger narrative about the decline of Inuit culture and offers little political history of the situation.
Yet far from a talking-head doc, the film contains many vérité sequences following Inuit as they go about their routines — hunting ducks, collecting feathers, hunting seals.
The raw and simple scenes of Inuit life offer an elemental cinematic tension. Who wouldn’t want to watch someone ice-fishing for seals with a harpoon?
As we witness this method, with all the silence, stillness, and patience it demands, People of a Feather flirts with becoming a different kind of doc, a film that is experiential rather than intellectual, conveying the intimacies of Inuit life through unadorned observation.
Closing sequences showing the harrowing fate of dead ducks, including one particularly affecting image of two frozen underneath the ice, confirm that when employing this approach the film finds success, working in an emotional register. Unfortunately, these sequences only account for a small portion of the film, which never makes up its mind as to what it wants to be — and fails to put together a satisfying macro-level narrative of the situation.