And we have our first feature length film; a documentary about the life and mysterious death of Solomon Tapatia Uyarasuk.
In the remote town of Igloolik, Nunavut in 2012, Solomon was found dead in an RCMP detachment. The police claimed he committed suicide, but some people suspect murder. The family wants to know the truth. That’s where Directors Marie-Helene-Cousineau and Susan Avingaq come in. Over the course of 79 minutes, Cousineau and Avingaq look into the mysterious circumstances of Solomon’s death and how it impacted his family. They also give us an intimate portrait of Solomon himself, a young and troubled Inuk man who became a suicide prevention advocate and an amateur acrobat. But most of all, they examine the epidemic of suicides in the North.
The film works on three levels. The first level is a true crime murder mystery. Through investigation and interviews, it becomes increasingly unlikely Solomon’s death was a suicide. First of all, as Solomon’s mother points out, the police will take away any time that could be used to inflict self-harm, including belts. Plus, the police keep watch every five to ten minutes. She should know. She had been incarcerated for public drunkenness more than once, unfortunately. “How can he make himself a lasso and hang himself in 5 minutes.” Then there are the contradictory statements by the police. First they claim he hung himself by belt, and then they make a statement stating he hung himself by shoelace and then the police report says he hung himself “with a nylon belt.”
But the most damning evidence comes from Femi Duyiemi, a psychiatric nurse who saw the prison cell where Solomon died. What he finds suspicious is that he seems to have hung himself from the vent, 2 feet from the ground. “I can tell you from experience I’ve never really seen it like that. I’ve seen them hung from doorknobs but never two feet from the ground.”
Though Solomon’s death is suspicious, suicide is tragically a normalized part of aboriginal communities. This is the second level of Sol; an examination of the high suicide rate amongst aboriginals; 13 times higher than the national average. In Igloolik alone, there are 1000 calls of attempted suicide a year in a population of 35,000. It got so bad Chief Coroner Padma Suramala called for an inquiry to investigate the suicides. What’s made even worst, according Director of Social and Cultural Development Nathan Obed is that it has been normalized. “People don’t talk about suicides or suicides happen” says Obed, who doesn’t believe this. I’m no psychologist but I’m going to assume the opposite is true. Why is this happening? On interviewee suggests aboriginal children today are caught in a difficult transition between traditional culture and modern life, leaving them adrift.
Those who read the earlier paragraph may find it suspicious that a suicide prevention advocate would kill himself. So in the third and most engaging level of the film, we focus on the life of Solomon himself. Through home movies, live performances and interviews with friends and family members, we find out what a truly fascinating life he lead. Being raised by his grandmother after his mother was forced to give him away; Solomon didn’t have an easy life. Even in childhood, he seemed destined for greatness when he got to act in a TV movie about aboriginal life in the 1940s. He didn’t disappoint as he became a member of Artcirq, a circus with a northern twist who have traveled as far as Mexico and France. Solomon and Artcirq use their skills for suicide prevention, encouraging children to explore their creativity.
Though he is a good man, the film acknowledges he’s not perfect. Artcirq co-founder Guilllaume Saladin points out, Solomon had distrust in authority. Since Saladin was an authority figure, there will be times when they can work closely and other times not so much. He is said to have become a loner in the end. In fact, on the night he was arrested, he was brawling with friends after sniffing gas. But through his interviews, you see a hopeful man with a strong belief in his cause. Saladin also has fond memories of Solomon.
So was his death a murder or a suicide? It’s hard to tell. We may never know. But the film gives us enough evidence to allow us to think about it for ourselves. What is certain is SOL is a powerful portrait of a complex and hopeful man who recognized an epidemic in his community and tried to do something about it.