Michelle Latimer discusses Inconvenient Indian, her award winning essay film, and reclaiming cultural images of Indigenous people. Keep up to date with our TIFF ’20 coverage.
Editor’s Note: Shortly after this interview was published, the CBC published an investigation into Michelle Latimer’s claims of Indigeneity, which appear to be false. We have kept the interview live as it’s one of the few records of Latimer’s thoughts on her work and her claims to Indigeneity before she stopped talking to the press. We are aware that there may be false claims in this article.
The 2020 Toronto International Film Festival was the year of Michelle Latimer, the only filmmaker boasting two works in the lineup: a documentary, Inconvenient Indian, and the first two episodes of her narrative TV series Trickster. Her two works were also among the very best to be programmed at the festival, with Inconvenient Indian picking up two prestigious awards: the TIFF 2020 People’s Choice Award for Best Documentary and the Canada Goose Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature. It’s our pick for the best film at the festival.
Latimer’s thought-provoking documentary Inconvenient Indian opens with an Indigenous man, whose body is covered in polka dots, on horseback in the middle of a vast field, when he suddenly spots the Toronto skyline in the distance. It’s one of many reminders in the film that colonialism never ended, that Indigenous people still exist and live today, and that our stories about both have been so controlled by settlers as to often obscure this reality. Inconvenient Indian is an interrogation of the stories told about Indigenous people — who authored them, who controlled them, what their legacy is — and how that impacts Indigenous lives today.
Adapted from Thomas King’s book of the same title, King appears in the film as our guide whom we follow through downtown Toronto, en route to the Fox Theatre. There, he sits amongst an audience of other Indigenous people to watch a version of the film we’re watching, a reminder that Latimer, too, is telling stories, manipulating images to ask the audience to think, and that she’s guided by King.
Loosely following the structure of King’s book, Latimer begins the story where the book begins: Custer’s Last Stand, a legendary battle in Montana in which Indigenous people actually triumphed. Instead of repeating accepted facts, she shows us how these so-called facts are related to people today. In a stately museum, we see a parent and child looking at a painting depicting the event; Latimer cuts to what seems like a film of the event, only to reveal an audience at the battle, which is actually part of a re-enactment. This is the story being re-told again in the present day. She makes us aware of how and where stories are told, like the way the stately architecture of a museum makes us believe the information presented in it.
Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk), who is one of the many artists appearing in the film, once explained to me that “we’ve [the Inuit] have been the subjects of documentaries for even longer [than Inuit have been making them].” In Inconvenient Indian, Latimer engages with the history of settlers depicting Indigenous people on screen. Images from Nanook of the North, the first documentary ever, made by a white man who filmed Inuit people as his subjects, are contextualized by Arnaquq-Baril’s voiceover.
Arnaquq-Baril explains the way the hunting methods depicted in the film were deliberately inauthentic to how Inuit hunted at the time, because the filmmaker wanted his Inuit subjects to appear less technologically advanced than they actually were. Latimer corrects the record in her film by following a modern day Inuk man as he hunts for seals using modern technology. In the archival footage of Indigenous people that appears in the film, Latimer searched specifically for moments when the Indigenous subjects acknowledged the camera, when she could make the audience aware of their agency.
Looking beyond documentary footage, Latimer also engages with Hollywood films of yore that feature Indigenous people, usually as two-dimensional villains. A montage of these films becomes particularly poignant when she loops the most offensive dialogue, forcing us to hear it repeatedly, so that it sinks in just how bad these depictions were. And if you think things are better now, Latimer and King visit Hollywood’s oldest costume house in LA where you can see racks and racks of Indian costumes, as if North America isn’t a continent with many, many first nations. They happened to be shooting there during Halloween, and within minutes of starting, they saw many settlers wearing Indian costumes, which is in the film.
At the same time, Latimer repeatedly reminds us that Indigenous people aren’t something of the past, whose traditional clothing can be seen in museum cabinets, but a vibrant, living culture of today. She shows us acts of cultural revitalization, from language acquisition projects to other educational endeavours. And she introduces us to Indigenous artists from across Canada and across vocations.
Taken together, Inconvenient Indian is a thrillingly vibrant piece of nonfiction filmmaking, eschewing talking heads and other signposts of power and authority in favour of a more impressionistic style. Latimer puts us in the thick of things, whether that’s a seal hunt, Hollywood films, or traditional Inuit tattooing. It doesn’t aim to educate from on high, but to ask audiences to question what they know. Where do settlers get their ideas about Indigenous people from? And how can Indigenous people take back the narrative in their own lives and continue to uphold their cultures? Perhaps even more importantly, Inconvenient Indian makes you want to learn more. It confronts you with your own complacency and complicity without ever accusing the audience. And that’s an amazing feat.
I first met Michelle Latimer at Sundance a few years ago, when the first few episodes of her Canada Screen Award winning TV series, RISE, premiered at the festival. She was so smart and articulate that I knew we couldn’t do just one interview with her to discuss both of her TIFF works. Here, you’ll find my in-depth conversation with Latimer about Inconvenient Indian; when Trickster premieres on CBC in October, we’ll publish a second interview with her about the series. In our wide-ranging discussion, she talks about how she approached adapting King’s book, creating the film’s many memorable sequences, and the importance of the ImagineNative Film Festival.
Seventh Row (7R): What made you want to tell this particular story?
Michelle Latimer: I read the book many years prior. I wasn’t considering it for a film; I was just reading it. It’s sort of considered a seminal text in the community. I went to Standing Rock. It was interesting to see all the things the book talked about taking place in Standing Rock through that occupation.
When I came back from Standing Rock, Jesse Wente and Stuart Henderson approached me to adapt the book into a film. My initial reaction was, I can’t do that! I have no idea how to do that. It was a few conversations before they convinced me I could do it, and even then, I was pretty intimidated.
I spent a year developing a treatment, and I went through about three different iterations of that treatment. It was only when the publishers sent me the illustrated version of the book that I started to really, really think about the power of media, historically, in our storytelling, and that was kind of a breakthrough for me.
7R: How do you approach writing a treatment for a film like this? I can’t imagine what it looks like to adapt a book into a documentary.
Michelle Latimer: The first iteration was quite didactic and academic. I broke the book up into themes. I started with a wall of cards, and I’d just put the themes [on them] and start to brainstorm potential visual scenarios that would illustrate those themes. Then, it was a process of editing it down.
I was looking for something to tie the larger narrative together, a spine. I wanted it to be metaphoric, dreamlike, or heightened. That’s when I started reading Thomas King’s children’s books. Interestingly, one of them is illustrated by William Kent Monkman, and they’re all coyote stories, trickster stories. Somehow, seeing the children’s book unfold, I thought it could be a spine for the larger themes to branch off from.
When you have hundreds of themes, you just whittle them down until you have a dozen. We shot a bit more than what we used in the film, but, generally, my favourite scenes are what ended up [in the film]. I wanted to privilege image over voice, so it would be things you could see that illustrate the ideas in the book.
7R: What kind of collaboration did you have with Thomas King? Obviously, he’s in the film, but how else did he get involved?
Michelle Latimer: He was involved from the very beginning. The production company had optioned his book and were working with him. He was always really generous with me. He kind of said, “I’ve written the book. It took me five years to write it. This is your film. I’m there to support and be involved as much as you want me to be, but I don’t want to be involved as a creative voice.”
He was very playful. We went to California together. It was his idea to walk down the Venice boardwalk in the headdress with feathers. He’s a very playful person and very game and actively involved in that way.
7R: What was the collaboration like with your cinematographer?
Michelle Latimer: I have worked with Chris Romeike for many, many years. I know his style, and he knows what I like. He shot some of the first things I’ve ever done 10 years ago. So there was an unspoken language that we have. This was the first time we’ve used dollies and sliders and a Ronin steadicam contraption. It’s the most I’d ever employed higher production tools. Normally, we’re just run-and-gun verité. He’s a beautiful handheld shooter.
7R: How did you come up with the opening sequence in which the Indigenous man in polka dots comes over a hill, and sees the Toronto skyline ahead?
Michelle Latimer: It was inspired by two things. One is that the cover of the book [The Inconvenient Indian] has an Indian in a headdress looking at a cruise ship, sort of like a steamship from the industrial era. I thought, Oh that’s really interesting, but I wanted to modernise that even further. I was thinking about how, as a Native person living in an urban centre, we often go unseen. Unless we’re doing a shawl dance or a round dance at a protest, people don’t even know that we’re there. They consider us regulated to reservations or rural communities when there’s such a huge population of urban Indigenous people.
I also wanted to remind people: our cities are built on this land, and there were people here well before the cities were built. That’s not an actor I hired [in the opening scene]; it’s one of the riders [on horseback] who was in the [Custer’s Last Stand] recreation in Montana. I asked him, “Do you mind doing this thing for me, riding your horse and then getting off…” and he said, “Sure!” That was really fun because it uses a real documentary scenario but fictionalised in a way that tips its hat to the structure of the film.
7R: You must have had to use visual effects for the cityscape.
Michelle Latimer: Yeah, what he’s looking at, in real life, is actually the battlefield of Custer’s Last Stand. But when you look at it, if you go to Montana, it’s just a rolling vast valley. So we literally shot him cresting up the hill and looking over this actual historical landscape that’s really just empty, and then we CG-ed that whole cityscape, which is a mockup of the Toronto cityscape.
7R: The film starts with the story of Custer’s Defeat in Montana, as seen in a painting in a museum, and then you go to the reenactment of that famous Battle of Little Big Horn. Those juxtapositions of images are really thought-provoking. Why did you want to start there?
Michelle Latimer: The book starts pretty early on in that historical pathway. It’s in some ways chronological. I was somewhat following the structure of the book. I knew I wanted to start in these very didactic historical reimaginings, what we know to be true — Columbus settled in North America — and start there. But then, I remember in Thomas’s book, he says, OK, let’s go back; what if history only started in 1984 or something? I forget the exact year. What if we look at that?
I knew that was what I wanted to do. Look at this old history we’ve been taught to be true, and then sort of twist it. I really split the film up into history, old history, and the ways we document and monument it, and then Hollywood, media, the birth of cinema. And then into the modern day land and people in protest for Indigenous rights. It also follows the loose structure of the dead Indian, the live Indian, and the legal Indian, which Thomas outlines in his book.
7R: How did you think about shooting Toronto in the film? There’s a real attention paid to the foreign-ness of these large, tall buildings. When you go into the museums, the Royal Ontario Museum in particular, it made me realise what a colonial building it is, just architecturally.
Michelle Latimer: Absolutely. I wanted there to be a very formal feeling when you went into those [buildings]. Whereas when we’re in nature, it’s more organic and the camera’s more fluid. But in those formal landscapes of the gallery or the Royal Ontario Museum, the camera’s on sticks or sliders or a dolly; they’re very formal kinds of shots.
I wanted to show the grandeur. It occurred to me that some of the reasons why Indigenous history maybe hasn’t been told up until now — there’s a great retelling happening now, but prior to that — is we don’t have monuments or big cement plaques. We didn’t do that. We tried to preserve the land. That was the beauty for us. You would look at a rock, or a culturally-modified cedar tree if you’re out in the British BC, and those were really subtle things that marked land and marked place.
Our history is in aural culture, and it’s of the land. It’s not because some big plaque is there naming people who settled. That was what I was trying to recognise: the difference between cement monuments, historical recording in a way that’s architecture that’s supposed to never be degraded, versus in the landscape, where nature takes over and man is not the central focus; the land is.
7R: The way the film is structured asks you to actively question what you’re watching: what’s real and what’s reenacted? How did you think about what images you wanted to use, what to shoot, what archival footage to use, and what images to use from existing films?
Michelle Latimer: I’m so glad that you feel that when you’re watching it because that’s what I was trying to achieve. That’s an intense question because there’s a lot of levels to that. But generally, I was interested in this idea of the historical truth vs. the truth that isn’t told.
When he [King] outlines the Montana Custer’s battle in his book, I knew that was one of the first places we [would have to go in the film]. I was like, I have to see this. And I knew, conceptually, that I wanted to present that reenactment almost like it was a piece of dramatic fiction, and then reveal that the audience is there, and this is actually taking place as a reenactment.
For the archival, I was really interested in the gaze. There’s such a history of ethnographic documentation of Indigenous people by non-Indigenous filmmakers, I really wanted to look at the moments when Indigenous people knew they were on camera, recognised that, and challenged it, even if it was something as simple as looking down the barrel of the camera to acknowledge that they realise they’re on film. That sounds like an easy thing, but it’s actually really hard to find that footage.
I went through hundreds of hours of NFB [Canada’s National Film Board] archival [footage] just to find the moments where you get a sense of, Oh they see themselves being reflected back in the camera. And then, I was also thinking about the moments when that camera or that recording device is being used to subvert or change [the subject].
I’m thinking of the clip where the Pueblo woman says, “Hi, I’m a Pueblo, and I went to the Albuquerque New Indian School.” I put all three takes of that [in the film]. It’s quite long, and it makes me uncomfortable every time I see it, because you’re aware of the editorial voice. If you’d edited the clips, she’d just look happy and great, but when you watch all three takes, you see the whitewashing process of the camera, of narrative, of what stories end up being in the mainstream media vs. what is left out. Those are, for me, the most exciting parts of the film.
7R: So you found all that by looking through hours and hours of footage?
Michelle Latimer: Yeah, and I’d already been commissioned by the NFB a few years back in 2015] to make a three-minute film based entirely around archival footage from the NFB archives. That was Nimmikaage, which was part of a series [the Souvenir series]: myself, Kent Monkman, Jeff Barnaby, and Caroline Monnet all made a three-minute film based on NFB archival for the Pan Am Games.
In that process, I started to find myself coming up against these ideas. Like, Oh, I can’t find any moments where women are looking at the lens of the camera; this feels really objectifying. I worked a few weeks on that film, and it was in that process that I started to go, Wouldn’t this be interesting, to really explore this on a much deeper level? I got to do that with Inconvenient Indian.
7R: Could you talk about the framing narrative of the movie theatre. How did you want to show people watching the footage we’re watching?
Michelle Latimer: Thomas King is also a photographer. He’s taken a lot of photographs along his journey as an author. At first, I thought I was going to use a photo exhibit of his work as a framing device. But then, I started thinking a lot about the representative reflection. When I was a kid, I would watch TV, and I never saw Native people, unless it was an Indians and Cowboys shoot-it-out western. That was not something I related to the people I knew or the community I grew up in. I wanted to show that.
There’s a passivity that could be read into it, like, Oh, Thomas is just passive; he’s just sitting there watching this movie. But it’s not passivity. He’s actually the conductor of the orchestra in some way, orchestrating the images.
I also wanted to ask the audience, as you’re taking in images, as you’re taking in this story, how is it changing how you feel [about your role in the story]? Just as it would change me, when I’m sitting there seeing my community not being represented or watching Indians be shot in the head by cowboys. How does that shift something in me? Now, here I am as an Indigenous filmmaker, creating these images that I’m showing to an audience, and there’s sort of a subversion in that that I’m really interested in.
I don’t want people to walk away from this film like, Oh, I learned something; I feel really educated. I want people to walk away and feel provoked, and really question their own unconscious biases.
7R: It sounds like RISE was really instrumental in shaping this film. How did getting to do that project before contribute to Inconvenient Indian?
Michelle Latimer: It was great in that I had to work across a huge amount of material in RISE, because it was eight one-hour documentaries, looking at Indigenous resistance but in many different forms. RISE had a format it had to stick to. It was hosted, 45 minutes. We always knew people would be talking on camera because it was a mix of veriteé and interviews. And in the case of, especially [the] Standing Rock [episode], we were chasing a developing story, as documentarians, not journalists, but still chasing a story that we didn’t know how it would end.
This was very different. There was no story to be chased. It was a story we were crafting so it was more of an essay film. I didn’t have any format I had to fit into with this. I could respond in any way. I wanted to privilege the images over the voice, look at the poetry of how images and sound fit together to tell a story. I wanted it to be more elevated and cinematic in a way I couldn’t do in RISE because it was a different type of storytelling. So in a way, it [Inconvenient Indian] was a sort of palate cleanser or a response to how I worked in RISE. I wanted to lean away from that response in a way that was more like a poem.
7R: How did you think about presenting old images from films, both Nanook of the North and then the Hollywood films, where you pick out certain offensive lines. And then also archival footage from residential schools, too. There’s really interesting things you’re doing with sound and looping sound and how you edited it together into a montage.
Michelle Latimer: Nanook, it’s not really changed, it’s exactly a clip from Nanook. I think what changes it is having Alethea [Arnaquq-Baril, who made Angry Inuk and produced The Grizzlies], who is a filmmaker from Nunavut, actually give us the context of that. Because there was a time where there weren’t even Inuit filmmakers. To have her behind the lens saying, “No, this is who my people are, this is how we live,” was really powerful.
When we get to the Hollywood section, I’m really interested in repetition and rhythm in films. I think there is a sort of rhythm to how we repeat stories. They are retold over again at the expense of erasing the stories that are not as mainstream. That’s where the violence happens: when a story becomes almost monolithic, so it’s the only one told of a people.
I wanted to play with that and also the idea of cinema as a tool of time. We play with time; we change things; we edit things. The editorial voice is the voice with power. For so long, Indigenous people were not the editorial voice of their own images.
It’s one thing to know about residential schools; it’s a whole other thing to see that it was documented on celluloid and video. When you see those children’s faces, and hear what the politicians of the time were saying, that rhetoric was normalised.
It makes me wonder, What’s the rhetoric we hear in day-to-day news, in our newspapers, in our media, that we just take as normal, that in 50 or 100 years from now people will say, I can’t believe the Prime Minister said that? But now, we think it’s OK, just as people did with John A. Macdonald. It really asks us to look at where we are now and think about our collective responsibility to how we move forward in our storytelling and our media. And how that translates to policy.
7R: How did you think about the sound throughout Inconvenient Indian? Both the music and the sound are so important in the film.
Michelle Latimer: The sound designer Brennan Mercer has designed all my films, since the very first one. He also is a beautiful musician. I had always dreamed of doing something with Brennan where he would come on earlier.
Normally, the sound designer comes on in the post-production phase and has a limited amount of time to get things together. But that never really worked for me, because I feel like the sound designer is a key collaborator, as important as the DoP [Director of Photography] or editor. On this film, I advocated for Brennan to come on at the same time as we started the edit, or around the rough cut phase.
He had all that extra time where myself, him, and our picture editor, Katie Chipperfield, worked fluidly to create landscapes together. Katie would edit something where we would see someone turn their head, and we’d go, OK Brennan, just so you know, we edited this head turn. You could add some sound there, so it would segue to this.
We were working very collaboratively. Brennan would mock up a soundscape for us, and we would put it into the picture and work with it, and we’d send it back to him and say, “This isn’t working.” I don’t know if I could work any differently because it was so gratifying. The sound is so important to the rhythm of the film.
7R: You’ve got a bunch of voices in the film, some who also appear in the film. How did you decide who you wanted to get as participants in the film and how did that come about?
Michelle Latimer: That was part of the process of editing down the themes. I had come off working on RISE, so I was aware of a lot of people who we didn’t necessarily profile in RISE, but I was interested in what they were doing. I wanted to show a swathe of people — hunters living off the land, versus people working in a lab doing digital video game making — to show the breadth of that evolution of work and cultural renaissance.
I knew I didn’t want anyone speaking on camera. I programmed for HotDocs for years. I’ve always found in western filmmaking there’s always this expert interview talking head, and I just hate it so much! It’s like, one, we’re in a visual medium so why am I sitting here watching this head talk to me? And two, there’s this idea of you’re educated, you’re smart, and you get to be privileged. I didn’t want to do that in this scenario. It was really important to treat it [the participants in the film] almost like a chorus or community of voices telling a piece of the same story.
7R: Were they all people you had met making RISE?
Michelle Latimer: No, I would say they were an example of people in my life, like artists I had met at ImagineNative. That’s when I first met the digital video game creator [in the film]. There were filmmakers I know from the community. All those people represent different corners of my life, artists I’ve come into contact with or work that I’ve been interested in. It was an opportunity to really spotlight them.
7R: Most of the film is set in and about Canada, but you went down to Montana and also to LA. Was that just because of Hollywood? And I guess you were there at Halloween?
Michelle Latimer: Yeah, that’s right. Thomas King grew up in Oklahoma, but also in California, which is where his mother is, so we went with him and his brother there to one of his hometowns. And also because of Hollywood: I was very interested in the rise of the Hollywood western and what that did for cinema.
We just happened to be there for Halloween. I knew I wanted to look at appropriation around Halloween. I wasn’t sure if it was going to be sports teams or Halloween, the whole headdresses at Coachella thing. And then the West Hollywood Halloween Parade was there. It was honestly an experiment. I remember telling the producers, I don’t know if we’re going to get anything here.
I live in Canada. I don’t remember the last time I went to a party and saw a guy in a headdress dressed up in redface, I really don’t. Although we do have our Prime Minister I guess! (laughs) Maybe I should retract that because I don’t want to seem like we’re holier than thou [in Canada].
I remember going to the Halloween parade and being so shocked because we weren’t five minutes in that parade, and we saw that couple walking in the black headdresses. There were more people in headdresses that we filmed that didn’t make the cut. I was shocked. I was like, Wow, this is a plethora of appropriation! It was sort of horrific, but also a documentarian’s dream! (laughs)
7R: When you go into the film costume warehouse and see all those costumes for Indians in westerns, that was really scary. The images are just so well chosen in the film that I’m constantly wondering how you figured out that that’s what you wanted to shoot.
Michelle Latimer: It was just a lot of research. Catie Lamer, one of the line producers on the film, was an associate producer on RISE, so she and I have worked together in the past. She’s a fantastic researcher. Once I had my themes down, I was like, This is what I’m looking for. I’m looking for instances of Hollywood appropriation. Is there a Hollywood costume house? Can you look into this? And she came back like, There’s this amazing one, Hollywood Western Costume.
You start with a hunch. That hunch grows into, well, there’s actually a few options. Then you go, What are the best options? That particular costume house has existed since the early 1900s and maybe even the late 1800s. It’s the oldest Hollywood costume house.
The guy that owned it, prior to owning that, owned a trading post in the midwest, and he started by trading with Indigenous people. He would bring traditional moccasins to Hollywood, and they’d be like, These are amazing; they’re so authentic; we can put them in the movies. And he would be like, Do you want me to try and get you some Indians as extras? And they were like, You can do that?!
So he actually made a lot of money through his involvement with Native communities and his trading. He moved to LA, opened up this costume house that basically had authentic things. There were pictures in the archives where there were teepees lining Hollywood Boulevard; Native people [had come] to audition to be in the pictures.
7R: Towards the end of the film, there are several scenes showing cultural revitalisation, with the school where people are learning their language and the school trip to go fishing on their home territory. It almost feels like hope for the future.
Michelle Latimer: Yeah, and it’s tied to the past. The thing about western culture is the past is in the past. It doesn’t affect today. We have a more circular way in how we tell our stories and our history, in that our ancestors walk with us in the now, and that is how we move into our future. History is not linear where you can say, Well, that was before; this is now; and that will come after. It’s all connected.
For me, showing the next generation who will mould and shape the future, learning traditional things from the past, is a way of showing that all of this exists right now. The power we have as a community, and as a people, is in our choices right now. I often hear people say, It’s not my fault; we’re doing the best we can; I can’t take credit for what my grandparents did; I’m doing the best I can, and it’s never going to happen again. But history has repeated itself many times so we have to take ownership of what’s happening now.
7R: I interviewed you back at Sundance when RISE was there, and one of the things you were talking about then was how to decolonise the colonialist medium of film. How did you think about that on Inconvenient Indian?
Michelle Latimer: That’s always a struggle for me in everything I do. For Trickster, we put some really big things in place because we had a huge crew. For me, the medium is the message. By using a circular narrative, by not using talking heads, by not privileging experts over regular community people: all those things are decolonisation on a certain level. [In Inconvenient Indian, it was], by putting our Trickster character, who really questions gender, putting all that up front. It’s all in the layers and subtext. I’m very joyous about that.
On a working level, my working practices are always changing. Trying to bring more Indigenous people into roles behind the camera, trying to get permissions when we’re on lands that are not my traditional lands, trying to work with elders if it requires ceremony or certain prayers ahead of time, feasting to honour the community we’re in. I always feel like it’s never enough, like there’s always more I could be doing. For every project, it’s a hefty task, but it feels necessary. It’s so tough because it’s [filmmaking is] such a hierarchical, colonial system. It’s like you’re trying to dismantle something that exists inherently of itself.
7R: You said you met other people at ImagineNative, which is also something I heard another Indigenous filmmaker, Elle-Maija Tailfeathers say. Why is that festival such a hub?
Michelle Latimer: This isn’t even an overstatement, it’s just the truth: I probably wouldn’t be making films if it wasn’t for ImagineNative. I had applied to medical school, and I was doing medical school interviews. Deep down in my heart, I wanted to make films, but I was too scared and didn’t think I’d be good at it.
ImagineNative had a make your first film mentorship award. I applied, and I got it. The summer before I was potentially supposed to start medical school, I made my first short film through the Lift ImagineNative mentorship. It changed my whole career trajectory.
ImagineNative was a place where you could meet people from the community, where you could have training opportunities, but you could also exhibit your films. As an artist, you create something, but then it needs to find its audience. ImagineNative had linked all of those things together and continues to do that 20 years later.
Filmmakers like Alethea, Danis Goulet, and Helen Haig-Brown (Edge of the Knife), we all came up together making films at the exact same time. And here we are, 20 years later, still supporting each other, reading each others’ scripts, watching each others’ rough cuts. It’s so beautiful, especially to see those other, specifically female, filmmakers; we’re creating our own space in the world for our work.
7R: That’s so exciting to hear. I’ve gone to ImagineNative as an outsider, and it always seemed to me like a hub.
Michelle Latimer: Yeah, it’s really amazing. I can’t say enough about it. And it’s become global. We’ve really connected with Maori filmmakers, filmmakers in Sweden and Finland. And it’s just been amazing.