Lesson learned?

Allan Code directed Pandemic at the End of the World in order to bring a historical perspective to the current global reality.

In March, Allan Code was filming the caribou migration in Tadoule Lake on Hudson Bay. When COVID struck, he had to abandon the partially completed project and drive back across Canada to the Yukon. As he did, the country shut down, doors closing all along the highways.

In isolation after returning, Code started thinking about how the inequality and poverty were going to play into pandemic.
“If you start thinking about the lack of ventilators and respirators in small northern communities, or about the crowded conditions that many live in in these areas, you start to see the potential of how catastrophic COVID could be in the North,” said Code. “When you couple that to a lack of understanding in the science and the flood of misinformation that is circulating, the consequences could be dire.”

Code also knew that pandemics had impacted the North before and that there were meaningful lessons to be learned from that history. The short film he started after his return to the Yukon, Pandemic at the End of the World, was made to bring those lessons to the fore for a new global generation. “This film is a warning from history,” he said.

In 2015, Code had the opportunity to visit the ancient Inuvialuit site of Kitigaaruk, a community abandoned after the great flu epidemic of 1918. He went there with historian Randal Pokiak. Pokiak spoke about the Inuvialuit’s experiences in the early 19th century when John Franklin and his crew infected their communities with deadly smallpox. Other devastating epidemics would follow, including that of 1918.
“When you are engaged with such a powerful individual, who is so articulate, all you have to do is stay out of his way and then work to amplify the message that he gives to you,” Code said of working with Pokiak. “During the Spanish flu, there were Dene and Inuit communities who didn’t have enough survivors to bury the dead,” Code said. “Randal talked about how the elders advised those that were still healthy to just walk away and to not even say goodbye to their loved ones. That’s how grim it was.”

Code said the film is quite different from his previous work. He called it “more old-fashioned” and said its purpose is to perform a public service. He wanted it to have a clear, emotional message. When Code approached Pokiak earlier this year with the idea for a film that would tie together some of their previous work with the current global pandemic, Pokiak was very enthusiastic.
“He told me, ‘by all means, get it out as quickly as possible, people are forgetting in our communities,’” Code said.

Code then reached out to David Stewart, who shot a Tuktoyaktuk-based interview with Pokiak. Code said Pokiak’s common-sense message touched on following directives for isolation and quarantine.
“He believed that his people would rise up and dig deep to keep the most vulnerable members of their communities safe, especially the elders. He delivered an appeal to people to understand the extreme threat that COVID brings and challenged them to be ready to come up with creative solutions that fit their community situation.”

Sadly, Pokiak passed away shortly before the film could be completed, but his message lives on in the film.
Code said they set out to create a film that can speak to everyone in a way politicians and governments can’t. He didn’t want political baggage, just a direct message.

“Randal was able to give us that gift. He’s able to speak to everyone. Whether you’re from New York, Siberia, the Amazon or northern Canada, you will be able to connect with his message. He spoke passionately from the heart about what history has to teach us all about pandemic disease. It’s a lesson we all need to hear.”

Pandemic at the End of the World can be viewed for free through the National Film Board of Canada’s site, which features social distance stories that aim to bring us all closer together. For more information you can visit www.nfb.ca.

An interview with Naomi Mark

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