Songs in Stone
An Arctic Journey Home

John & James 

In Canada the name Houston is indissoluably wed to Inuit Art - it's simply hard to say one without the other. James Houston, author, designer, and filmmaker, went to the eastern Canadian Arctic in 1948 and was one of the first southerners to see the extraordinary potential of Inuit art. While living at Cape Dorset on Baffin Island he introduced the Inuit to printmaking and established the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative. He brought exhibitions of Inuit art to the outside world, traveling to the United States, England, France, Italy, Scandinavia, and the Soviet Union. In acclaimed novels such as The White Dawn, Ghost Fox, Spirit Wrestler, Eagle Song and Running West he wrote movingly of native people of the North and helped bring their experience to the South.

His first wife, Alma Houston, was no less an enthusiastic proponent of the Canadian Arctic and its peoples. She discovered it in July, 1950, when she went to the first exhibition of Inuit sculpture at the Canadian Handicraft Guild in Montreal. She met James Houston and six months later she was married and crossing Baffin Island by dogsled in mid-winter. There was no turning back and she worked tirelessly throughout her life bringing the vivid, powerful, and original works of these peoples to a wider public. For over a decade she was the powerhouse behind Canadian Arctic Producers, an agency arranging exhibits and promoting Inuit art. She was awarded an Order of Canada to honour her outstanding contributions.


Their son, John Houston, was born on Baffin Island and grew up speaking Inuktitut and playing on the stony slopes of Cape Dorset. His childhood was spent immersed in the in the world of Inuit, culture, language and art. Now in Songs in Stone, John Houston tells his story: a gripping one of family, community, art and culture set against the sweeping vistas of the Canadian Arctic. It's the story of a family's love affair with the powerful landscape of the Canadian north, the close communities that dwell there and the rich culture that is born of their meeting. Says Houston:

"The reason I made this film was that I was privileged to be a part of the community of Cape Dorset, through what now is clear was a remarkable period in Canadian art-history. Growing up among the Inuit of Cape Dorset has had the most powerful influence on my life, and on the lives of my family."

When John's mother, Alma, died last year it was her wish to have her ashes scattered at Cape Dorset. The event proved a catalyst, both bringing the scattered Houston family back together, and in reuniting some of the early founders and exponents of Inuit art. It was a pivotal event for filmmaker John Houston himself who says:

"When my mother chose to have her ashes spread over the hills behind Cape Dorset, it set in motion a chain of events. Some were sad, some were joyful, many were unexpected. I kept trying to be 'objective,' but how can I be objective about a story that I'm caught up in, a story that's still being told? My compass through all this was my heart."

Pootoogoo, Lukta Qiatsuq, John Houston, James Houston, Jimmy Manning,
Iyola Kingwatsiaq, & Osuitok Ipeelie.

In Songs in Stone John Houston uses childhood memories as a prism through which to see the history of the times and the fascinating and complex development of Inuit Art over the last half century. A panoply of 'northern' and 'southern' voices speak of the economic and social circumstances which lead to the birth of the movement to bring Inuit art to the rest of the world. We have an opportunity to meet carvers and printmakers such as Kenojuak Asevak, Osuitok Ipeelie, Iyola Kingwatsiaq, Kananginak Pootoogook, Lukta Qiatsuq, and Mannumie Shaqu - all pivotal figures in the development of Inuit Art.

These pioneers of the medium look back fondly on the past while young carvers and jewelers look forward to new challenges and approaches. Through this fascinating kaleidoscope weaves the story of the Houston family: the experiences they had, the haunting sights and sounds of the land we now know as Nunavut, and the role which they were privileged to play in bringing some of this rich cultural tradition to the rest of the world. Making Songs in Stone was a challenge for Houston who adds:

"One of the hardest things in making this film was the challenge of bringing the viewer inside an exotic culture, an unfamiliar language. I hope that for a few moments, you will see the Inuit as I see them, in their kindness and their wisdom and their power - that you will want to know them, and to experience their art."

Asevak & granddaughter

Songs in Stone received its world premiere across Canada on the CTV Network on August 15, 1999 as well as a special screening by the Canadian Museum of Civilization / Musee canadien des civilisations, August 19, 1999 in conjunction with the exhibition of Inuit art, Iqqaipaa. It was also screened at the Atlantic Film Festival, September 18, 1999.

Songs in Stonewon the Outstanding Achievement Award at the Far North Film Festival held in November, 1999 in Yellowknife, NWT, and the Silver Chris award at the 48th Columbus International Film & Video Festival October 24-27, 2000 in Columbus Ohio. It was nominated in three categories (best sound, best original score, and best writing) at the 2000 Hot Docs: International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Ontario as well as receiving nomination for a Golden Sheaf Award in the Arts/Entertainment category of the 2000 Yorkton Short Film & Video Festival.

Songs in Stone is produced by Triad Film Productions with the participation of the Canadian Television Fund (License Fee Program), Telefilm Canada (Equity Investment Program), Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, and the Fundy Communications Production Fund, with the assistance of Canada Television and Cable Production Fund (License Fee Program), and the Nova Scotia Film Industry Tax Credit. Training was provided with the assistance of the Canada/Nova Scotia Cooperation Agreement of Economic Diversification. Produced in association with Vision TV and CTV Television Inc.

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