'Ever Deadly' Is an Emotional, Engaging Portrait of Tanya Tagaq

Directed by Tanya Tagaq and Chelsea McMullan

Photo courtesy of NFB

BY Paul DikaPublished Jan 20, 2023

Of all the ways to describe Tanya Tagaq, "fearless" may be the most appropriate. The Inuk throat singer has spent her entire life championing her people, land and culture while calling out the oppressive systems and structures that have existed in Canada for generations. Whether it's through her Polaris- and JUNO-winning albums, her semi-autobiographical novel or her social activism, Tagaq uses her art to explore the factors that have shaped her and her people.

Ever Deadly, her documentary made in collaboration with Chelsea McMullan, is an experience. Part documentary and part live concert, the film captures Tagaq's connection to her history, ancestors and home, while also showcasing why she is so highly regarded as a live performer.

The film sets an intimate tone from the jump, with an extreme close up of Tagaq and fellow Nunavut artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory as they partake in traditional Inuit throat singing. The improvisation between the two lasts roughly seven minutes, a breathtaking sequence that demonstrates why the style of singing is so personal and important to both performers. When the scene shifts to her concert, Tagaq explains to her live audience that she loves the improvisation that comes with throat singing because it only "happens once this way, ever." She goes on to say that it's an "electric" type of experience, something that is captured in the film's opening and throughout Tagaq's live performances. 

In her concert footage, Tagaq performs solo, explaining her vocalization is a contemporary style, as throat singing is traditionally performed by two women singing face to face. Whenever the film features these live performances, the focus is on Tagaq experiencing and sharing her art. While she is backed by other vocalists and players, the camera stays locked on Tagaq, only offering fleeting glimpses of her band in the background. McMullan knows how unique and skilled her subject is, and is dedicated to showcasing Tagaq's talents. 

Weaving through the documentary are interviews with Tagaq that give insight into her upbringing in Cambridge Bay, NU. Tagaq is candid, using words of adoration to describe her home, which are complemented by home videos from her childhood that reinforce her love for where she was raised. As they flip through old photos together, Tagaq's mother shares the story of her parents' forced relocation to Resolute Bay at the hands of the Canadian government. Misled by the promise of a place rich in resources and land to build a new life and home, her family arrived to nothing and had to survive on their own. That strength and resilience seeps into Tagaq's artistic output, and she and McMullan understand that these types of stories provide further insight into the how and why Tagaq, the person and artist, has become who she is. 

Tagaq and McMullan explore governmental and social evils as they reflect on the ongoing impacts of Canada's missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Footage pulled from vigils, rallies, demonstrations and interviews illustrates the mental and emotional turmoil inflicted upon Indigenous communities. But perhaps more strikingly, these moments underline the determination and bravery of these women who stand up and challenge those in positions of power, ensuring that their voices are heard — a point of emphasis for Tagaq and McMullan. 

Ever Deadly is an emotional and engaging snapshot of Tagaq's career up to this point — one that has been so intertwined with her ancestry, spirituality, and thoughtfulness for others. Tagaq and McMullan's film serves as the ideal starting point for those new to Tagaq by highlighting her accomplishments on and off the stage. While diehard fans may be familiar with her background and story, Tagaq's live performances, compassionate interviews and spoken word poetry (aided by the illustrations of Shuvinai Ashoona) make for a gripping watch.

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