The 2020 ImagineNative Film Festival is entirely online this year, and highlights include: Monkey Beach, Inconvenient Indian, and shorts like Lichen and Becoming Nakuset.
The 21st ImagineNATIVE Festival, the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, kicked off digitally on Tuesday, and continues until Sunday. For the first time, the festival is being held entirely online, with films streaming across Canada, and in some cases, around the world. It’s a new level of accessibility for a festival that has always prided itself on this, with ticket prices as low as $6 for a pass to watch all films screening that day, and a $60 all-access pass. An Industry pass is $85, which gives access to the program in the US, Mexico, Greenland, Norway, Finland, France, Germany, UK Australia, and New Zealand. You can buy tickets and passes here.
ImagineNATIVE is the annual showcase for Indigenous film; most of the Indigenous films we’ve loved and covered have also played the festival, including Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Blood Quantum, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, Alanis Obomsawin’s documentaries, Sweet Country, Rustic Oracle, Tia and Piujuk, VAI, and beyond. It’s also an incredibly important gathering place for Indigenous creatives. The Body Remembers director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers met her co-director Kathleen Hepburn at the festival, and Michelle Latimer (Inconvenient Indian, Trickster) says she would not have become a filmmaker without the support of the festival and its community.
Shadow of Dumont
Trevor Cameron’s Shadow of Dumont is one of a series of recent Canadian films — among them, John Ware Reclaimed, No Ordinary Man, Inconvenient Indian — dedicated to reclaiming the history of marginalized people. The film, ostensibly, takes as its subject Gabriel Dumont, a colleague of the better-known Louis Riel, with whom he led the 1885 North-West Rebellion in which the Métis people rose up against the Canadian government’s refusal to honour their rights. Dumont is Cameron’s great-great-uncle, which lends the story a personal touch. Cameron, who resides in Toronto, takes off in a camper van, soon to be covered in a Métis flag, to retrace his ancestor’s journey throughout Saskatchewan and into the United States, where he fled after the rebellion… Keep reading
Monkey Beach is one of two screen adaptations (alongside Trickster) of Eden Robinson’s work this year, and it’s the only one to fully feature the place where Robinson’s work is set: Kitimat, British Columbia. Director L. Sarah Todd’s insistence on shooting in Kitimat, despite its remoteness and the costs associated with this plan which delayed production for years, pays dividends, as the film is so rooted in a particular place. You’re constantly hearing the sounds of the ocean, seeing whales, and wondering at the very specific (and incredible) greenery of Northern BC.
Like Trickster, Monkey Beach is ostensibly a YA story: 20-year-old Lisa (Grace Dove), who has been living in Vancouver for two years, returns to Kitimat. Lisa, we learn, can talk to the spirits of dead people, and has the tendency to get premonitions of the deaths of her loved ones before they happen — making her feel responsible for trying to prevent them. Over the years, that becomes incredibly stressful, especially since she’s been having the same premonition about her brother, Jimmy’s (Joel Oulette), death since they were children.
The film follows Lisa as she reconnects with her family and friends in Kitimat, and makes peace with her gift, learning that she need not control everything. It’s also rich in flashbacks to Lisa’s childhood where her relationships with her Uncle Mick (the outrageously charismatic Adam Beach) and grandmother Ma-Ma-Oo (Tina Lamerman), both of whom steep her in Haisla traditions, are crucial to her identity formation. The film is rich in character detail and filled to the brim with characters, meaning it can be somewhat confusing to non-book readers and first-time viewers, but really opens up on second viewing. Lisa’s journey takes unexpected turns while Todd wonderfully depicts a whole community and Lisa’s relationship to it. And it’ll make you want to buy a plane ticket to BC as soon as the pandemic ends.
Tickets for Michelle Latimer’s multi-award winning Inconvenient Indian, screening on the festival’s closing night, have already sold out, but you can still catch the film by buying a pass to the festival (which is well worth it even without Latimer’s film!) for just $60 (or $85 for an industry pass if you want to watch it outside of Canada). Here at Seventh Row, we name it the best film at TIFF 2020. Here’s an excerpt from my introduction to my interview with Latimer:
“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. “
ImagineNative 2020 Shorts Programme: Red — Becoming Nakuset, Lichen, Katinngak, and more
While so many film festivals treat short films as an afterthought, they are very much at the forefront of the ImagineNative programming. The festival opened with a shorts program, and screens a new one each day, offering bite-size insights into Indigenous cultures around the world. This year, I sampled from the Red program, which screened yesterday, and will be available until Friday at 10AM. Here are some of the highlights.
In Ojibwe filmmaker Victoria Anderson-Gardner’s Becoming Nakuset, Nakuset talks straight into the camera about her experience as a survivor of the sixties scoop which landed her in a Jewish home where she was neglected and abused. Her frank recollection of her trauma, coupled with her clear affection for her Jewish grandmother, the only source of unconditional love in her life, is a potent emotional experience in Becoming Nakuset.
Anishinaabe filmmaker Lisa Jackson’s short documentary Lichen was originally shot in 3D, though it loses none of the wow factor in 2D. The film features incredible images of many different kinds of lichen, coupled with voiceover from experts on the fungus, explaining the extreme conditions under which it can live.
Lichen is only available to stream in Ontario.
Inuk filmmaker Glenn Gear’s short and sweet one-minute-long Katinngak features gorgeous animation of a caribou and bear throat singing against a backdrop of kaleidoscopic beadwork. The mixture of the black-and-white animals with the bright and colourful beadwork make for a stunning visual experience.