Isuma’s Media Players: Edge computing for remote Inuit communities

Over the last 12 years, Isuma’s Media Player technology has brought high quality indigenous language videos to remote, low-bandwidth Inuit communities in Nunavut, the territory in the Canadian arctic where we are based. We launched IsumaTV in 2007 as an indigenous language video streaming platform. Yet soon after we realized that the majority of the Inuit were unable to watch IsumaTV through the cloud, due to the fact that Inuit communities have one of the most expensive and slow internet connections in the world. We were pushed to find a way for Inuit to access the Inuktitut language videos on IsumaTV. We came up with the idea of our Media Players, an edge computing network that gives remote communities access to their videos and films by locally hosting the entire content of IsumaTV (now 8,000 videos in more than 70 languages). The media players gradually synchronize and transcode new videos, audio, images and other large files to and from the central website as they are uploaded. We have since installed Media Players in more than 15 indigenous communities. Many of these communities have used them as a repository of Inuit content in their libraries, schools, and local television stations.


Unknown Speaker 00:00
Hi, everyone. Thank you for coming. I'm David er tell. I am a software developer and technical producer for E Summa, a film and media company founded by Inuit people, and based in Nunavut, Canada. I'm also a founder of art record, and archiving software as a service for working artists, galleries and estates. I'm here today representing a sumo. This presentation is a part of the systems track at MCN thank you to MCN for including Asuma and this year's conference. I would also like to thank my colleague, Gabriella gammas, for helping me with preparing this presentation. I'm here today to talk about UCM as media player project. Our media players are a content delivery network that we developed in house to bring our archive of 1000s of videos and hundreds of indigenous languages to remote communities with limited internet access, including the Inuit communities of northern Canada. But before I get into the details, I'd like to discuss our motivations for creating this new network. And first, a little background on us. You Suma, a company 100%, Inuit owned, has been producing Inuit films, videos and new media projects since 1985. Our main offices are in igloolik. In the Canadian Arctic, that we have many multicultural team members such as myself in different parts of the world. With each production, new jobs are created for Inuit, and there is a considerable revitalization of the Inuit language known as Inuktitut. Here's a sampling of some of our more recent feature films.

Unknown Speaker 01:54
We have kept alive so many facets of Inuit culture by recovering the stories from Inuit elders about nomadic life on the land, relearning their ancient ways of naming things, hiring seamstresses to create traditional clothing hunters to create sets, and of course, Hunt young people learning about their own culture, through our productions and through our films.

Unknown Speaker 02:27
The following slides show some of the traditional Inuit practices still in use today that we have used and kept alive in our films. These practices include the traditional Inuit sled called a climber tick that uses just wood and string. These sleds appear in our films, and are also an essential tool for transporting equipment to far flung locations. The preparation of meat using the Inuit women's knife known as Hulu, and the traditional method of processing animal skins for clothing.

Unknown Speaker 03:06
Our recent film and video work is currently on view at the Canada pavilion at the Venice Biennale, la suma are the first Inuit artists to represent Canada at this renowned art festival. During the opening week of the Biennial in May, we broadcasted live on the internet and on local Inuit television directly from from the Arctic sea ice. By showing in real time, the seal hunting practices of Inuit hunters, we were able to show in a direct way, the present pneus of traditional Inuit ways of life on the land. In this way, we hoped to challenge the notion of indigenous cultures as past tense, or existing solely in the past or in relation to colonialism. And a little behind the scenes photo, you can see me and my coworker Carol, working on our portable broadcasting studio carried around on one of those anyway, sleds I was telling telling you about. The satellite technology that we used any of us to broadcast live in crystal clear HD, from a very remote part of Nineveh for the Biennial. But I'm afraid it would take us too long to talk about all these these productions and all the fascinating stories behind them. Instead, I will focus on sharing what we the Asuma collective are doing today with our media player technology and our motivations for creating it. In Atlanta, sorry in 2001 at an arduous at the fast runner museum his first feature film when the camera at the at the Cannes Film Festival. This was incredible, the most. The most prestigious International Film Festival was giving us one of the most important awards to an Inuit film made by Inuit people acted by Inuit with Inuit costumes telling an Inuit story all in detail Everyone around the world was able to watch it. People in China, London, Paris, Latin America, Australia, Russia everywhere, except that you knew it from Canada. There were no theaters or any type of film distribution in Nunavut. None of it is the Inuit autonomous Inuit territory and in northern Canada, where most Canadian Inuit people live. So the Inuit community had to wait for friends or friends or friends to bring them a DVD copy so that they could finally watch it. As you can imagine, this was a great irony for us, as it's so important for us to use film to revitalize Inuit language and culture, bringing Inuit stories to the screen, getting away from the stereotypes, and letting everyone know who Inuit are, where they come from their stories and their language. This problem of Inuit people getting access to their own cultural heritage is not new. I've heard so many stories from my interview colleagues, about archaeologists, anthropologists, National Geographic documentarian, and other non Inuit people coming to their land to take precious artifacts and stories, and they never return them, or present them back to Inuit communities. This paradox that the Inuit for whom for whom this film was made as a way of bringing their culture to the screen, rather than for the American or international film industry has had trouble finding it and were the last to watch our film. This problem was what brought us to imagine and then invent the cinema TV. You see, my TV is a global indigenous online platform. That today includes more than 8000 films and over 70 languages, films and videos made by and for indigenous people, and for whoever wishes to watch them. We started SEMA TV from scratch. This was at a time when Facebook didn't have videos, when Netflix was just doing home delivery of DVDs. It was 2007. And there were not many examples of similar internet projects to learn from. When we started to think about UCTV, we were asking ourselves questions such as are we going to include video and film collections made by non Inuit video makers is only going to be made of Canadian productions. Eventually, we reached a decision, the philosophy or of our project had to be more inclusive, and have more than just our own productions, more than just Inuit content. And it would be an international project, an online platform that would show the enormous variety of languages and cultures alive around the world today. Our curatorial approach was based on openness and freedom of speech. A space without themes or specific genres, we felt that diversity was the most important thing to show.

Unknown Speaker 08:04
The image that shaped eeschema TV, its metaphor was television. In a way, we wanted to emulate the experience of TV, but now over the internet, initially only with videos, and then we started to include photos, articles and audio files. However, we launched, we launched isuma TV in 2007. But at that, at that point, we were faced with a problem that the majority of eNovate were still unable to watch this content. Inuit communities in 2007 indefinitely still today have one of the most expensive and slow internet connections in the world. And most of them could not afford to visit the estimate TV website. This is the pricing chart for the only residential service in igloolik. And also in most of the communities in Nunavut. igloolik is the town where headquarters are based. Yes, that's 25 gigabytes of data usage per month. For the most popular plan. Just watching a handful of videos can use up an entire month of residential bandwidth, cutting off Internet access completely until the next billing cycle. This is the case for most of the Inuit communities in Canada. So effectively, you know, you never see anyone using YouTube or Netflix or any type of video platform because it's just too expensive. We are figured we were compelled to figure out a solution for this. We came up with the idea of our media players, which could give remote communities access to their own videos and films through the same website as the rest of the world. John Hodgins, the technical director of a cinema, has conceived and still directs the media players project. I have contributed code to the software I have helped to integrate the media players into various new media projects over the years. I've also administered some of the media players and configured them on site in equally. Local servers installed in each community contain all the media files of the streaming TV. Now over 8000, videos and films, these local servers are all also constantly uploading any new videos that are uploaded from that community. And it also downloads the latest content from our web servers in the cloud. I'd like to explain in a little more technical detail how the media players work. Each media player is a computer with our software installed on it. We ship each media player to a community with all the existing videos from isuma TV pre downloaded onto it. Once the media player is plugged into the Internet at the community, it checks in with our servers in the cloud and continuously synchronizes any videos that are uploaded to a streaming TV. This makes sure that the media players stay updated. The synchronization of files between our central server and the media players is coordinated using a web application we developed that is based on Drupal and get annex the media players communicate with our server in the cloud through an API to request and receive files. On this page, you can see a queue for a media player installed in igloolik. If there is a video that a community member wants to access as quickly as possible, anyone with the permission can go to this page and find that video and prioritize it. This makes sure that the requested video is prioritized in the synchronization from our cloud servers. If a user is connected to the same local area network as the media player, such as a library or a school, and they navigate to a video on a SEMA TV in their browser, they will actually be served that file directly from the media player. The webpage itself the HTML is served from our server in the cloud, but it instructs the embedded video player on the page to play a file at the local IP address of the media player. We have installed media players in schools, libraries and community centers in Nunavut and around the world. There they have served as a vivid part of curricula about indigenous cultures. Installing the media players and community centers in the north provide a permanent internet infrastructure in remote communities to deliver high value film distribution at a modest cost.

Unknown Speaker 12:39
Speaking of community centers and just as an aside, this photograph of a feast in the community, this is a photograph of the of a feast in the community center of igloolik Everyone's having a great time chowing down on Arctic char caribou seal, and the local delicacy of fermented walrus and usually a vegetarian but I made an exception to try out everything during a feast this spring. We use our media players to facilitate inter community activism in our project Digital indigenous democracy. We installed the first media player in 2010 at ugly lakes Elementary School in high school. The media players don't just serve files, they can also build a playlist of videos that members of the community can edit. We hooked up our media players to the local television stations in several Inuit communities. And then we connected to local radio stations, and each community to the internet via estima. TV for the first time in which people were able to listen to local radio stations from other communities. This is really important because local radio and television is a huge part of life in igloolik, and other Inuit towns. People leave the radio and TV on all the time in their houses and at work. And they're a great way to reach the whole community and inform everyone about political issues. We integrated a series of technologies, internet and radio and local cable TV to facilitate communication between Inuit government and the baffinland Mining Corporation. This is because since 2006, Inuit have been facing one of the biggest mining developments in Nunavut, one that affects their lives tremendously. The stakes are high. This mining site has already changed the migratory patterns of animals, which has affected food security and the way of life of hunters. The local effects of mining development on air, land and sea only compound the effects of climate change, which Inuit have been affected by much more acutely than other areas of the world. Through this project, we have been able we've been using media to inform people go and reach meaningful consensus to give a public platform to Inuit voices through video to interview key people to explain what's really happening, and to make all affected communities aware of the impact of various expansions of nearby mining projects. The core functionality of the media players of serving our video files locally in each community was a crucial tool to allow all the communities affected by the mining project to share all of this information between each other. Each community is hundreds of miles away from the next and they're not connected by roads. So telecommunication is essential for this type of activist work. People usually describe the distance between each community in terms of the number of days on snowmobile to give you a sense of how far away things are. This type of communication and consensus was so important for making sure that Inuits rights and interests with their land were aligned and also being respected by the Mining Corporation. This is the model that we have done over the past 12 years. This model is operative, and now works quite well. So well that everyone in Nunavut wants isuma TV to work with their communities. Inuit love to see their own culture showing on their TVs at home. The town of igloolik, where our company is based, was one of the last communities and none of it to get cable television. This is because of the resistance of many of the community members who didn't want so much non Inuit culture to be shown to their children. Our media players show new and old videos of Inuit culture and bring it right into people's homes. Our goal now is to cover all of Nunavut with this technology, and share this model with any other community that is interested, whether it be in Canada or anywhere else in the world. We are already being approached by several several communities around the world in places such as Mexico, Chile, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Brazil. They're turning to us to learn how to expand the network to their communities. Many indigenous communities are looking for a model for archiving their media and making it accessible. However, we have never worked with indigenous communities in the United States, we have a model that has worked, that we've worked really hard on for more than 12 years through various funded projects to make this happen.

Unknown Speaker 17:32
We want to share our expertise all that we have learned with indigenous communities and cultural institutions in the United States, copy our model, get inspired by it, or let's work together to find a way to bring this to your communities with your name on it, your your own videos, your own language, and your own stories. Thank you so I think we ended a little early if anyone has any questions. It's a volunteer that could maybe help pass around the mic. Thank you so much.

Unknown Speaker 18:20
This is really great. Just from a brass tacks technical plumbing level. Yeah, curious for the sinking, why you're using why you're using Git and not something I think that um I'm not sure

Unknown Speaker 18:36
why we ruled out BitTorrent. I don't know how like granular you can get with like, like getting being Oh, yeah, because I think with BitTorrent, I don't know how grounded you can get in terms of like the queue in which things are transferred. It's really important, the order in which things are downloaded because of the limited internet. And I didn't know we had with Git annex, we hook it up to actually puppet which is one of those, you know, remote DevOps scripting, you know, servers, so we can kind of really see what's going on in each server, see what's going wrong, you know, update the cues of the downloads. Yeah, that's, that's fun.

Unknown Speaker 19:18
So, we talked a little bit yesterday, but we are working. We've been working in New Mexico on a Mellon funded community archiving project with small communities in northern New Mexico, some of which are indigenous, some of which are just very small, isolated, rural farm ranching communities. And it's, it's so interesting to me because we've talked so much about community archiving letters and objects and and we haven't really thought about just media playing for the community and we have a mandate for Community Youth and I now I'm like, Oh my God, why didn't we think of this? So I'm just inviting you to come to New Mexico and talk to our project. So that we can we can talk Look at a model like this. So we do want a copy or model. Just extending that invitation right now.

Unknown Speaker 20:07
Awesome. Yeah, it is funny. Like we use the word archiving a lot, but it's, we're a film company. That's what our base where we come from. Everything that we're archiving is, you know, ephemeral media. And we don't really traffic in objects at all. Yeah, so it's, there's still this cultural, there's still this issue of cultural heritage and bringing, you know, keeping that media within, you know, the community, the Inuit community. But that is our that's, that's I guess, that's our narrow focus is like, we're not thinking about artifacts or objects, just the media.

Unknown Speaker 20:43
I, I, you probably I think I just missed it. I'm sure you said it. How do you, you get the internet to the, to the servers that are too expensive? Do you? Do they have their? I missed that part?

Unknown Speaker 20:57
No, I didn't really mention exactly how the the local servers actually get connected to the internet, the way we've done it, because it's like, every time it's installed, it's part of a grant that we get like every like, yeah, so or, or sometimes the town's will pay for the service. But that will include a more robust internet connection. That's, I think, still one of those ones. And that pricing plan that I showed, but like the most tricked out one, and so it just that way, it's like, it's everyone having to suck up all their bandwidth on all their capitals, it only has to download to the community once and then and then everyone else can just access it locally.

Unknown Speaker 21:41
So how is there like broadcast TV and like a TV Guide, like how as

Unknown Speaker 21:56
I think the most common way people consume media through our media players, is we actually have like a local access television channel in most of the communities in which we have them installed. And so those, so we have this, like, video nerd guy that just makes playlists, he finds, you know, interesting videos, and makes playlists. And people watch that that's like a really common way. But people can also, you know, whenever the library or schools are open, they can physically go there. And just, they just go to assume a TV like normal, and then they can just see everything, they can access all of the media just through the regular web browser.

Unknown Speaker 22:37
I have a question about the actual video content, I assume you're not creating it. These are created by third party are you involved in the creation as well,

Unknown Speaker 22:45
it's a combination. So we are a film company we've made like dozens, maybe over 100 feature films now. Close to 100 feature films, because we made a lot of documentaries. And then there was that feature film I'd mentioned that was at Cannes, and we've been making lots of feature films since then, like almost once a year. So we do have most of that content available through our our platform is in the TV. But a lot of stuff has been tons of collaborations, like with the National Film Board of Canada. This project called Diana, which was an archiving project that we had funded. A lot of films that we we actually are a distribution, we're actually registered as a distributor in Canada. So we distribute, you know, indigenous films that are either either made in Canada or around the world through our platform. So that's a way of distributing. Yeah, so it's, it's common, and then just literally people uploading from none of us uploading or from wherever, just uploading their own stuff.

Unknown Speaker 23:51
That was my next question. Have you seen a huge increase in content created by community members, since now there's this place to show it?

Unknown Speaker 23:58
Um, we didn't, we don't really, I don't know if we ever really like measured that. Specifically, I definitely find that the most like user generated content was definitely around like programs like educational programs that we did. Like there was this really cool project where we to the business community that's like half anyway to have Cree and they have like, long standing political tensions. There was a there was a battle, a war, one point and so working with like, innovate and create children to like, create videos about daily life together, even though like normally their schools are separate. And that use the media player to like, basically make it possible they wouldn't have been able to like upload and share those videos otherwise. I think one in the back maybe. Oh, okay, great. Awesome. Well, cool. Thank you. Thank you so much.