imagineNATIVE: a feast of a film fest

The imagineNATIVE film + media arts festival gets better and better, morphing easily in 2020 into a cyber affair with lots to click on. Two feature films make this year’s fest a feast for readers as well as media consumers.  Cree/ Métis director Loretta Todd co-wrote and directed Monkey Beach, a sensitive adaptation of Eden Robinson’s 2000 novel of the same name. It’s the story of Lisa Hill who has fled her Haisla village of Kitamaat for life in the big city of Vancouver and returns to undergo a healing process and come to terms with her personal past. What you need to know is that Lisa is gifted with the power to communicate with the dead. The script creaks a little, but performances by Grace Dove, Adam Beach, Glen Gould and especially Tina Lameman make up for such faults.

Thomas King wrote the book that Métis/Algonquin director actor Michelle Latimer, adapted for the screen, as Inconvenient Indian.  An NFB/90th Parallel co-production, already lauded with the People’s Choice Award at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Inconvenient Indian is nothing short of brilliant. Latimer cast King in a starring position, as a movie-goer riding in the back of a Co-op cab. As King tells the story of Coyote and the duck feathers, his driver transforms into a grinning coyote. And so it goes, a riveting documentary that brings the undeniable truths of An Inconvenient Indian to the big screen.

The 21st imagineNATIVE festival presents work from 153 Indigenous artists from 13 countries and 97 Indigenous nations. In addition to 10 feature films, organizers have put together four short film programs, two guest-curated programs and one artist spotlight, on Cree video artist Thirza Cuthand with a screening of her video Thirza Cuthand is an Indian within the Meaning of the Indian Act.

This year’s winner of the August Schellenberg Award of Excellence is Squamish BC actor Lorne Cardinal, a well known thespian who performed in Schellenberg’s all-indigenous production of King Lear at the National Arts Centre. He’ll be presented with the award on Sunday, October 25, when all the other festival prizes are handed out.

In addition to the annual art crawl, imagineNATIVE sponsors exhibitions, industry talks, a pitch session and a keynote address from Tantoo Cardinal.

Here are some films that make this year’s festival particularly appealing. Shadow of Dumont is a feature film from Métis director Trevor Cameron, who sets out from Toronto to look for his roots in the story of Gabriel Dumont, leader of the 1885 Métis uprising in Saskatchewan. Brother, I Cry, written and directed by Jessie Anthony, a Haudenosaunee woman born and raised on the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, looks at how cultural practices play a part in healing those suffering the pain of addiction. A Canadian premiere, Māori/Pasifika director/producer Kiel McNaughton’s The Legend of Baron To’a is the story of a young Tongan man dealing with the legacy of a superstar father who was a wrestler. Atua is a New Zealand film that imagines Atua Kahu, the last man standing in a world destroyed by disease. The film, directed and written by Brown Bitty Muaupoko, Ngai Tara, Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Huia, came out of NATIVE Slam, an international collaborative event that gives indigenous directors 72 hours to make a movie together.

ImagineNATIVE runs through Sunday October 25. For information on tickets, free events and daily schedules, go to https://festival.imaginenative.org/in2020

Photo: Still from Inconvenient Indian

ImagineNATIVE, a feast of indigenous film and media

At the Venice Biennale this summer visitors lingered long at the Canadian pavilion, captivated by One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, as it played on three big screens, subtitled in Italian, French and English. A production of the Baffin Island Isuma collective, One Day is directed by Zacharias Kunuk and compellingly presents a story, in Inuktitut, of a day in 1961 when Noah (Apayata Kotierk) and his clan, out on the ice to hunt and trade, spy an approaching dog team and sled. This turns out to be a white man named Boss (Kim Bodnia), a Canadian government official who has come to tell Noah and his companions that they must prepare to leave their way of life and join a community where their children will go to school. Adding to the poignancy and authenticity of the film is the understood notion that the Inuit culture faces a still greater peril in the form of climate change and the melting of the polar sea ice.

Tonight, the film screens at Toronto’s Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema Hot Docs at the opening of the 20th edition of the imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival, 18 years after the opening night screening of Kunuk’s ground-breaking Atanarjuat The Fast Runner. imagineNATIVE, the largest indigenous festival of its kind in the world, serves as a platform, for first nations’ film and media and encompasses a professional development component, the imagineNATIVE Institute, as well as an awards program.

From tonight through Sunday, October 27, imagineNATIVE will present 126 film and video works in 30 languages from 18 countries and 101 indigenous nations, including nine features, 13 documentary features, and 12 short film programs. Watch for The Incredible 25th Year of Mitzi Bearclaw, a touching feature directed by Shelly Niro, starring MorningStar Angeline and featuring the amazing Billy Merasty as Mitzi’s father.

The outstanding filmmaker Alanis Obamsawin returns to the festival with an NFB production, Jordan River Anderson, the Messenger. This documentary tells the story of a Cree child born with overwhelming challenges and how a dispute over his care led to major changes in access to healthcare for indigenous peoples in Canada.

Among many short films of note, the 2001 Gwishalaayt – The Spirit Wraps Around You celebrates the life and work of ‘Namgis filmmaker Barb Cranmer, who died earlier this year. She was from the important Kwakwaka’wakw family in Alert Bay, British Columbia that did so much for the continuance and preservation of their art and culture.

Wik vs Queensland is a 2018 feature documentary from Australia directed by Dean Gibson relates how the aboriginal people of Wik take on the Queensland government and land developers to ensure rights to their traditional lands.

Among special events in the festival is a Friday presentation at the Art Gallery of Ontario of Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus [infected], a multi-channel projection and immersive experience followed by a conversation with curator Julie Nagam. And on Thursday, the popular imagineNATIVE Art Crawl takes in five galleries with visual art works, curatorial and artist talks and a live performance, starting at Onsite Gallery and ending at the Toronto Media Arts Centre.

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival
October 22-27, 2019 at Toronto locations

For more information call 416.585.2333 or visit www.imagineNATIVE.org

Photo: Still from One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk

Gallery

Indigenous achievement on screen

 

“How many have to die before you say, Enough? ENOUGH!” So says one of the Maori women in Waru, a film made in New Zealand by eight Maori female directors, each of whom contributed a 10-minute segment to a feature telling how a community comes together over the killing of a boy by his caregiver.

Tomorrow, Waru will open the 18th imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, running from October 18 to 22 in different downtown Toronto locations. imagineNATIVE, now the largest festival of indigenous screen content in the world, is this year presenting 130 works, including 116 films and videos, five audio pieces and nine digital media works. Almost three-quarters of the works (72%) were made by women.

Powerful imagery about powerful women, Waru is composed of eight shorts, each made in one continuous shot that, strung together, tell the story from many points of view of a boy named Waru, revealing the pain of child abuse and looking to ways of healing.

The festival closer, screening Sunday at TIFF Bell Lightbox, is The Road Forward, a Canadian-made musical documentary created by Marie Clements, a Métis/Dene playwright and filmmaker from Vancouver. The National Film Board production is based on a stage show employing first nations singing and dancing to tell the story of protest and activism by indigenous peoples in Canada from the 1930s to the present.

Sweet Country, another searing feature from Down Under, is a western directed by Australian filmmaker Warwick Thornton. Set in 1929 in the Northern Territory, the movie is based on an actual event: the murder of a white rancher by an Aboriginal bushman acting in self-defence.

This year’s festival is an occasion to mark the 50th film made by Alanis Obamsawin, Our People Will be Healed. The Quebec filmmaker, whose works go back to 1971, when she made her first film with the NFB, Christmas in Moose Factory, has this time turned her lens on the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, a Cree school near Norway House, 800 kilometres north of Winnipeg. As the 85-year-old Obamsawin told reporters in September at the time of the Toronto International Film Festival, “if you want to start talking about (native) problems, start talking about them in a positive way.”

Indictment: The Crimes of Shelley Chartier, is a documentary from CBC Docs POV. “I was stupid, I was bored, I was lonely – that’s the truth,” Chartier tells the camera of her catfishing exploits. She relates how simple it was to impersonate celebrities and their fans online from her home in a remote reserve in Manitoba, Easterville. When an NBA superstar falls for Chartier’s online pose as a model who sends him nude photos of herself, the player is entrapped with the revelation the pictures were of a 17-year-old. Chartier’s extortion efforts took RCMP on a trail that led to the Playboy Mansion and other celebrity locales, before Chartier was indicted and sent to prison for 18 months.

Among the 102 short films screening at the festival are many directed by emerging indigenous filmmakers. Razelle Benally (Diné) is an alumna of the Sundance Film Institute Native Filmmakers Lab. Her 10-minute drama, Raven, screens in the shorts program Mother + Child. Beautifully shot, Raven is the wordless, heart-breaking story of a teenage suicide that derails at the last minute.

Terry Jones, a Seneca artist from the United States, has made untitled & unlabeled, a three-minute experimental documentary that uses a video-game format to tell the story of how as a small boy he learned just how “different” he was.

Inuit filmmakers Carol Kunnuk and Zacharias Kunuk are represented at the festival with the world premiere screening of “Bowhead Whale Hunting with My Ancestors,” the first episode of a seven-part television series, Hunting With My Ancestors.

The festival’s new headquarters at 401 Richmond Street West will be the site for much of the industry component of the festival, including the imagineNATIVE live pitch sessions, workshops and panel discussions on such topics as, “Breaking the Mould: Developing Indigenous Narrative Models.”

Friday night, starting at 5 pm at the Onsite Gallery, is the festival’s Art Crawl, a bus tour taking in shows and talks on contemporary indigenous art at seven gallery spaces.

Partnering with Hamburg’s A Wall is a Screen, the festival presents an urban walk at 7:30 on Friday from the Art Gallery of Ontario featuring shorts projected on various wall spaces.

Last but not least, imagineNATIVE presents The Beat, hosted by Jarrett Martineau at the Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday night, showcasing live performances by Mob Bounce, Kayla Briët, Ziibiwan and DJ Kookum and screenings of music videos.

 

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Oct. 18 to 22 at various venues in Toronto

Go to imaginenative.org for details and schedules

Photos, clockwise from top left: Sweet Country, Indictment: The Crimes of Shelley Chartier, Raven, Waru