Film and Video

Prodigious Years


The Windigo displays its evil power and zombies assault the Montreal First Peoples Festival screen, hoping that with their living-dead looks to die for that they will snatch a Teueikan grand prize.

The zombies populate feature film The Dead Can't Dance, by young Comanche filmmaker Rodrick Pocowatchit, who will be on hand, fully alive, in Montreal for the launch. Rather on-the-edge humour, always on the brink of breaking out (in laughter), but with understatement almost always keeping it within bounds, in a typically Amerindian manner.

The monster that sneaks into the lives of a dysfunctional family in A Windigo Tale, by Armand Garnett Ruffo, an Ojibway poet and playwright, and based on his own play, is a more disturbing type. A cold breath from the Great Beyond awaits us in this astonishing production with a solid narrative structure and conclusive final punch. Gary Farmer stars in one of the leading roles.

The fantasy genre offers a new take on traditional tales in Visions, a made-for-TV film from Quebec, with young Brad Gros-Louis, a revelation, and remarkable in the leading role. Among featured short films are: The Cave, based on a Tsilhqot'in legend (a question for our scholars: did Irving's Rip Van Winkle derive from this ancient legend?); another Windigo filmed among the Atikamekw, and Tsi Tkahehtayen (The Garden)a moral fable filmed in the Mohawk language.

The supernatural element is sometimes scarcely traced out, metaphorical, as in Kissed by Lightning by Shelley Niro, with a rhetorical device reversing the departed's own name and lightning itself. A similar process occurs in a documentary entitled Tcikitanaw (High Mountain, in Atikamekw), in which the mountain is an immemorial presence and the heights where the spirit finds a place to take wing. In Altiplano, the correspondences the film draws between events that seem unrelated at first glance – a broken statue, a toxic waste spill, an execution photographed in Iraq, and a funeral in Belgium – offer a dizzying view of the hidden unity of the world in which we live, unaware of its subterranean secrets.

In numerous documentaries reality itself often takes on unexpected colours: secret experiments carried out by the Canadian government as revealed by Experimental Eskimos ; the obscure and shady disappearance of the legendary sled dogs of the Far North, narrated in Qimmit: A Clash of Two Truths; tribal guerrilla warriors in feathers and tattoos taking a stand against a powerful Indonesian occupying army in West Papua in Forgotten Birds of Paradise; an ancient, forgotten ceremony unexpectedly reborn in Le Retour de la danse de l’oie; and a travelling circus that journeys by snowmobile over the vast, icy spaces of the Canadian Far North in Artcirq.

We can also say that it is fantastic in another sense that so many feature films are being made at present by First Nations people, and almost always by independent directors and producers just starting out in the field.

The World at the Village Gate

We recall that in 2001, Zacharias Kunuk took the Caméra d'or at Cannes for Atanarjuat. In 2009, another amazing newcomer, Warwich Thornton, an Australian Aborigine, carried home the same prize for Samson and Delilah, a harsh love story between teenagers damned by life but illuminated by the ethereal grace of the desert where they took refuge, which Montrealers can finally discover during the 2010 festival.

Anastasia Lapsui, a Nenets director, and Markku Lehmushkalio, which whom she co-produced her films, had to wait longer than Kunuk and Thornton for international recognition. Presented at Berlin and a prizewinner at Créteil, Pudana, their most recent feature film, will be screened during a retrospective that the Cinémathèque québécoise is devoting to this pair. For film buffs who are disappointed to have missed it during previous editions of the First Peoples Festival, we will be screening the magnificent feature film Les Sept chants de la toundra and the equally fascinating Bride of the Seventh Heaven (Teueikan Grand Prize, First Peoples Festival 2006). Here is an opportunity to discover great filmmakers and, as an extra feature, get insights into their documentary work.

And who will be the next First Nations filmmaker to take a prize at Cannes or Berlin?

Many are already betting on Blackhorse Lowe, the talented Navajo director who is presenting Shimásání and b. Dreams this year. Or will this filmmaker be from Québec? And will they have learned the craft in training programs given by Wapikoni mobile – offering us two original shorts this year: Bienvenue dans mon monde by Érik Papatie, the opening film, and Game over by Jacques Newashish? Or in audiovisual training provided by the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi at Wendake? The shorts Uashtushkuau and L’Envol du Papillon) come out of this experience. Or the joint APTN – Canal D project, which enabled Sonia Bonspille-Boileau to make Last Call Indien) If a Main Film or Télé-Québec prize were offered to Québec First Nations filmmakers, it would be a great boost to their careers.

One need only view Warbrick, by brothers Meihana and Pere Durie from New Zealand, Bourke Boy from the Australian Adrian Wills, Ivan and Ivan by Philipp Abryutin, or the Mexican film Où la rivière te mène by Rafael Silverio, to grasp the worldwide scope of the explosion of new First Peoples' talents. We can expect a lively debate on the horizon to decide who will take home the best short subject prize this year.

Latin American contenders include Sangradouro, produced in Brazil by Video nas Aldeias, Rehje, an intimate portrait of a Mazahua woman, directed by Raúl Cuesta and Anais Huerta from Mexico, and Et le fleuve coule encore by Carlos Perez Rojas. These all stand a strong chance of winning the Best Documentary prize bestowed by the journal Séquences.

The undeniably international movement of First Nations affirmation – from Chile with The Voice of the Mapuche to Norway with Suddenly Sami – comes alive on the screens of the First Peoples Festival, 2010. Best of luck to all our proud contenders.

Twenty Years Later

It is the 20th anniversary of the Oka crisis. The Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre, in partnership with First Peoples Festival, is presenting a retrospective on films that concerned these well-known events. This will conclude with the monumental Kanehsatake, 270 years of resistance by Alanis Obomsawin, preceded by various films, now historic documents, this famous Abenaki filmmaker directed on the subject. It will also provide a rare opportunity to see Indian Summer by Gill Cardinal in which a fictional approach provides the liberty to narrate what was going on behind the closed doors of cabinet ministers' discussions, at negotiating sessions, in Mohawk Council meetings, at SQ headquarters and in the heavily armed camp at the Treatment Centre. Thanks to NFB and Ciné Télé Action for their partnership.

Cinema Under The Stars

FRIDAY JUNE 18 AT 9 PM : Court mais intense, a selection of shorts produced by NFB or coming out of Wapikoni Mobile workshops.

SATURDAY, JUNE 19 AT 9:30 PM : Reel Injun by Neil Diamond, Canada 2009. The movies, Hollywood and the Amerindians.

At the corner of Saint-Laurent Boulevard and Bagg Street, outside the Schubert Baths (3950 Saint-Laurent Boulevard).

Awards Ceremony

SATURDAY, JUNE 19 AT 4 PM, rue Sherbrooke Ouest

«Las Cámaras de la Diversidad» prize at the Montreal First Peoples Festival

UNESCO, the only agency of the United Nations with a specific mandate in culture, favours the promotion of cultural diversity via indigenous, community-based audiovisual creations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The medium- and long- term purpose of its Las Cámaras de la Diversidad (The Cameras of Diversity) project is to strategically contribute to the formation, production, dissemination, distribution, and preservation of audiovisual works by Latin American and Caribbean Indigenous People.

Since 2007, the Distribution Network – Las Cámaras de la Diversidad, disseminates selections from the audiovisual programs in indigenous communities at major national, regional and international festivals and events. In addition, in order to encourage production in indigenous languages and to offer greater visibility to events, Las Cámaras de la Diversidad prize was created to reward audiovisual works that, through original narrative language, best communicate the diversity of the expressions and cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples.

Las Cámaras de la Diversidad prize will be attributed during the Montreal First Peoples Festival awards ceremony, Saturday, June 19 at 4 pm at the McCord Museum.