This podcast episode pays tribute to the great films and enormous impact of Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby who passed away on October 13, 2022. He directed two landmark Indigenous feature films out of Canada: Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) and Blood Quantum (2019).
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Never miss another podcast episode again! Become a Seventh Row insider, and we’ll let you know about all the new episodes, as well as other films we recommend.
About the episode
Mi’gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby passed away unexpectedly from cancer on October 13, 2022. He was only 46. He is best known as the writer-director of two feature films in colonial Canada: the landmark film about residential “schools” Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) and the popular zombie film Blood Quantum (2019). But he has also made three excellent shorts, which we hope to help people discover: From Cherry English (2004), The Colony (2007), and Etlinisigu’niet: Bleed Down (2015).
We’ve been huge fans of Barnaby’s work and activism, and are still very much mourning the loss of this incredible talent who wasn’t given the opportunities he deserved. There are so many films we will never get from him now. But we also wanted to talk about how many roadblocks were put in Barnaby’s way while he was alive, preventing him from making all the films he could have and wanted to make in his time.
This episode is a tribute to Jeff Barnaby — a complicated, difficult, visionary filmmaker — and what his work has revealed about Canada and the film industry. When Barnaby died, we didn’t just lose so much future work from this important filmmaker that we all wanted to see (and he wanted to make), but we also lost a huge resource of cultural knowledge of the Canadian and Indigenous Film Industries.
This episode features Editor-in-Chief Alex Heeney, Executive Editor Orla Smith, as well as Associate Editor Dr. Brett Pardy.
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On the podcast episode Remembering Jeff Barnaby
- 01:51–3:45 Why are we talking about Jeff Barnaby?
Jeff Barnaby’s accomplishments
- 3:45–6:26 Jeff Barnaby’s unexpected passing and his huge impact on the film industry
- 6:26–10:38 Barnaby not only changed filmmaking but effected social change with his work
- 10:38–16:56 How the Canadian film funding bodies failed to support Barnaby’s work in the ways it should have. We also discuss why they wanted to fund Rhymes for Young Ghouls but not Blood Quantum
- 16:56–19:44 Making films about colonial trauma without showing gratuitous violence or making trauma porn at the same time
- 19:44– 24:52 Dr. Brett Pardy on teaching Rhymes for Young Ghouls and its weighty emotional impact on the viewer. We also discuss Barnaby’s use of genre to capture a settler audience and talk about colonialism. Barnaby did this without being didactic or preach. He’s not there to teach; just to provoke.
- 24:52-30:21 Rhymes for Young Ghouls is so accomplished it doesn’t feel like a first feature.
How Jeff Barnaby’s experiences reflected the problems with the Canadian film industry
- 30:21-32:08 Barnaby wasn’t given the opportunities he should have been given in the time that he had, even though everyone in the Canadian film industry knew how talented he was and how important his work was.
- 32:08-47:58 How Jeff Barnaby was refreshingly honest on Twitter and in interviews when discussing the realities of being an Indigenous filmmaker. Barnaby had a lot of integrity. He also worked to uplift other Indigenous artists. He was one of the most accessible filmmakers on Twitter and would regularly engage (positively) with other film fans and critics.
- 47:21-49:24 The loss of Barnaby also means the loss of a huge body of knowledge of how the Canadian film industry works to support (or fail to support) Indigenous filmmakers.
- 49:24-52:54 The lack of critical or academic interest in contemporary Canadian film, let alone Indigenous film, and how we have tried our best to fill the gap.
- 52:54-57:13 Jeff Barnaby’s short films, as well as why they are worth catching up with
- 57:13-59:31 Related episodes, what’s coming next on the podcast, and other wrap-up thoughts.
Show Notes on the podcast on remembering Jeff Barnaby
- Read Alex Heeney’s interview with Jeff Barnaby on Blood Quantum and colonialist zombies
- Read Seventh Row’s 50 favourite films of the decade which also includes Rhymes for Young Ghouls as #6.
- Watch Jeff Barnaby’s short From Cherry English (2004) (Available worldwide)
- Watch Jeff Barnaby’s short The Colony (2007) (Available worldwide)
- Watch Jeff Barnaby’s NFB short made from archival footage, Etlinisigu’niet (Ble)ed Down (2015) (Available worldwide)
- Read Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Reports
- Read The Huffington Post‘s review of Rhymes for Young Ghouls from 2013 written by an Indigenous writer who claims that Indigenous Peoples didn’t know how bad residential schools were back when the film was set.
- Become a member for access to all of our upcoming episodes. This also includes most of our episodes on Indigenous films
- Listen to our first podcast season on Women at Cannes
- Bonus 27: Empathy on film with Dr. Brett Pardy (FREE to everyone) – Dr. Pardy did his PhD research on how films can create empathy, and used Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls as a case study for some of his on-the-ground research.
- Ep. 39: Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls & Blood Quantum (Members only) – In this early episode of the podcast, we compare and contrast Barnaby’s two features, as well as discuss how he uses genre in innovative ways, and more.
- Ep. 62: Indigenous YA, part 1 (Members Only) – We discuss three recent contemporary Indigenous YA films from Canada: Beans (2020), Monkey Beach (2020), and the TV show Trickster (2020).
- Ep. 63: Indigenous YA, part 2 (Members only) – A broader survey of Indigenous YA out of Canada from the last decade, including Rustic Oracle (2019), Tia and Piujuk (2018), The Grizzlies (2018), Kuessipan (2019), and Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013).
Discover more great films from Canada, including great Indigenous films
2018-2019 was one of the best years for Canadian cinema in history. Discover these great films through conversations with the filmmakers, guided by the Seventh Row editors in our inaugural annual book, The 2019 Canadian Cinema Yearbook.
Episode (excerpt) transcript
The transcript for the free excerpt of this episode is AI-generated by Otter.ai.
Orla Smith 0:18
Welcome to the Seventh Row podcast. I am Orla Smith, one of the hosts of the podcast and the executive editor of seven throw. Seventh Row is a nonprofit online film criticism, publication and publishing house dedicated to helping viewers engage in political conversations through the lens of cinema. We're invested in how film can be a catalyst to help people understand and think about social structures and social change.
On today's episode, we'll be paying tribute to a brilliant and influential filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, who passed away in October at age 46. We've talked about Barnaby, his work and the incredible influence he's had as an indigenous storyteller working in the Canadian film industry a lot as a publication. We're huge fans, we've interviewed him, we place his debut film round for young girls at the number six lot of our best of the decade list. We covered that film in his second feature Blood Quantum on this podcast. And as a collective of Seventh Row, we've been invested in talking about his career. And it was obvious to us that we had to have an in depth discussion about his legacy when he passed away, and that we wanted to have one, as well.
But it's taken us a while to work out what that conversation should be. Which is why it's taken a while for us to put this episode together. But we're having it now with this episode. And the hope is that we can celebrate his immense accomplishments. And also for people who are not aware of Barnaby and his work, that you know why he was so important and why he's someone you should pay attention to.
Our bonus episodes like this one are usually members only, but we felt it was important to have this discussion on our main free podcast feed, so that everyone could listen to it. If you want access to our other bonus episodes, you can become a member at seven dash rho.com/join That will also be in the show notes. The voices you're here this episode. Me, hello, my co-host Alex Heeney, the Editor-in-Chief of seventh row and our Associate Editor Brett party. Here's the episode.
Alex Heeney 2:48
So today on the podcast, we are paying tribute to Mi'gMaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby, who suddenly and sadly passed away from cancer on October 13 of 2022. We wanted to take some time to really think about how best to pay tribute to him. So that's why this is coming out a couple of months later, Barnaby directed two feature films Rhymes for Young Ghouls and Blood Quantum. And he had an enormous impact on the Canadian film industry and I think indigenous filmmaking around the world. So we're going to talk about his films and his legacy and celebrate this artist who was as gone too soon. I am Alex Heeney, editor in chief of Seventh Row. I am joined by my co host executive editor Orla Smith. Hello. And our guest Associate Editor Brett party. Hello.
Orla Smith 3:46
It was such a huge shock to see that he had passed away huge job. Yeah, yeah. I, I was with a friend. And I saw that I saw that it happened. And the friend hadn't heard of Jeff Barnaby. And I suddenly found myself like, trying to explain just how important this guy was. And it was such a shock, and I, you know, is letting it sink in. And then the kind of watching as the or particularly the Canadian Press reacted and kind of felt like, very disappointed by how people? Well, when I say people again, I mean, specifically the press,
Alex Heeney 4:32
which we should say is basically the white settler press. Although I don't know that eight btn which is the Aboriginal Television Network. did much better.
Orla Smith 4:43
Yeah, I mean, you know, obviously there were a lot of indigenous filmmakers who had worked with him or knew him or had been influenced by him who had very heartfelt things to say about Jeff binaries importance, but there's sort of printed remembrances of him, were kind of copied from the same press release. And it felt like people weren't really talking about just how influential this guy was like how much he changed. Cinema, like he changed Canadian cinema set at The Hague and changed indigenous cinema. He did really fascinating and innovative things with genre filmmaking. Like he, he is someone who it takes like, I mean, we thought about writing something. And we were like, we've got to think, how would we write? How do we kind of recommend this legacy? And then we realized that we can only kind of, well, the best way to do it would be to do it. Like in a podcast episode, where we could go along, because like, it felt like that was the only way we could really talk about all the very complex ways that he was important. And the complex things he did like that. It takes a lot to reckon with that. And I felt like, you know, it's representative of what was so excited about, like his career that he never received the recognition and support that he he needed and deserved, that his you know, his death was not treated by the Canadian press with the gravity that it should have been.
Alex Heeney 6:26
I think also like, you know, it's one thing to say filmmakers, films, changed filmmaking. And that's, you know, a big accomplishment, but I think he was one of the few filmmakers who can actually say that they affected social change. I think that's a much rarer thing. I think, for a lot of people. Rhymes For Young Ghouls was sort of a landmark film, where it may have been the first time they encountered, you know, Indigenous storytelling kind of was for me.
You know, I was an ignorant settler, like the rest of us who, you know, I'd heard about, I vaguely knew that residential schools existed in the sense that, like, I had been told in one sentence in school in history class, you know, that we had them from, you know, the 1800s, and that they were starting to close in the 60s, and the last one closed in the 90s. But I had no idea what that really meant in what is the fact that they were like, sights of torture for children and genocide. And I, I didn't really know about all that stuff. And I think I started, you know, the kind of amazing thing about rhymes for young ghouls, is it. It is such an emotionally impactful film, but it also raises so many questions. And if you're a settler, and you aren't already educated makes you go, Oh, wow, there was a lot I didn't know.
Brett Pardy 7:51
There's actually reviews from 2013 of people suggesting the film is anachronistic that to suggest that the Indigenous people knew about how bad the residential schools were at the time, because settlers didn't know about that at the time. So they assumed that well, no one did, which is just shows... I know, it just it's just mind boggling to think that to accuse the film of being anachronistic that just kind of shows how much settlers assumed residential schools then buried.
Alex Heeney 8:22
Yeah, yeah. And it was, I mean, there's a lot to say about this film that I'm not going to set up in the next few minutes. But I think it like for me personally, it kind of made me go is this whole part of Canadian history that I was not told about, that I did not know about that I did not know to be curious about. And, you know, got me interested in, you know, looking for every Indigenous film that was made and doing my homework, which I think was part of what Jeff Barnaby wanted settlers to do when he saw his film, among other things like, was that, you know, he was there to provoke and it was our job to go and do the work.
Brett Pardy 9:07
Yeah. Like, that's what is so great about his films is that and from his Twitter presence, you get the sense clearly has no interest in this idea that he's out that he has to like, educate settlers. No, you know, he has to make films with a settler audience in mind, which, unfortunately, is how a lot of Indigenous projects seem to get funded, especially over the last couple years, as what's their kind of educational value?
Yeah, whereas Barnaby's films, you do you learn a lot because he's engaging. I think he's trying to get their audiences in through the fact they're genre films. And then once you're intrigued by that, the hooks there, then he's going to actually get into Okay, yeah, this seems like a horror film. But that's because for Indigenous people. Life has been a horror film in many ways, and I'm going to show how, and you can follow along and feel it and then go want to learn more about it.
Alex Heeney 9:59
You then there's some kind of funny ironies to, to the fact that that's what what happens because he wrote the screenplay for a blood quantum, I think, in 2010, or earlier, like, well before rhymes for young ghouls, and nobody wanted to make it. And he had to write the film that was about residential schools and make that first so that he could then make the crowd pleasers zombie film. i Oh, and even then he could barely, I mean, barely get the money. And it was, you know, it's a miracle that that film exists.
Brett Pardy 10:38
It shows you how bad the Canadian funding system is that you can make Rhymes for Young Ghouls. It's like critically beloved, treated as this like landmark film. And then it's like, six years, right? We don't really want to fund another one of your films, because yeah, I don't know. We want no more oversight over what you're going to say.
Alex Heeney 10:58
Well, and also, I mean, he had been making... he started making short films in 2004, and within film circles,
Brett Pardy 11:08
like he was on that he was on the Canadian film festival circuit.
Alex Heeney 11:10
Yeah, he was on the Canadian film festival circuit. And if you were in the know, watching films, made in Canada, then you knew he was a big deal. Because by the time I had become aware of rhymes for young girls, and started hearing it talk, talked about everybody who was in it was like, yeah, we've known he was a big deal for 10 years from his shorts. But then, like, what ended up what ended up happening with, you know, how his films got seen is I think blood quantum ended up drawing in a lot of audiences, because it really was kind of a more pure genre film. And you could kind of not care about the issues it was talking about, you just want to see like a penis get cut off,
Brett Pardy 11:56
I think was on Shudder, which definitely helped.
Alex Heeney 11:58
Well, yeah, and also TIFF. You know, I give TIFF, a lot of flack for doing a shitty job promoting Canadian cinema. They actually did their job with blood quantum, they gave blood quantum the opening night slot, and they programmed it in Midnight Madness, they really gave it a platform to find an audience. And they could have buried it the way they bury most films that are, you know, contractually obligated to program in order to get their funding from the Canadian government.
But this was a really good thing that they did for the film. And I remember at TIFF that year, I was at the world premiere and, and, you know, I was kind of shocked to hear the film getting discussed on the film, common podcast, like they gave it a proper launch, which they don't do much, but at least they did do that. And I think that by giving it a proper launch inside like a, you know, a place for genre, film lovers, that was instrumental in getting a shudder deal. And then the fact that it was on shudder meant that it was available around the world. And you know, it got buzz within and got buzz within the genre community, which is a pretty intense sort of like,
Brett Pardy 13:12
yes, and blood quantum as a really easy kind of pitch line.
Alex Heeney 13:16
Yeah, exactly. Well, you want to see what it is
Brett Pardy 13:19
on this film about where there's a zombie outbreak, but zombies only affects settlers and not indigenous people. So the people on indigenous reserve kind of create like this fortress against the settlers zombies for trying to get in.
Alex Heeney 13:35
Well, it's more like a zombie bite moaning infect indigenous people, but they can still eat you alive. Yeah, I
Brett Pardy 13:41
mean, like, they're still a threat, but you're not going to become a zombie yourself. You just you're just, which is better. Never.
Orla Smith 13:47
Yeah, reserves become a place where the uninfected settlers want to escape to.
Alex Heeney 13:54
But I think blood quantum, then its popularity led people to go back and check out Rhymes for Young Ghouls. So effectively, Jeff Barnaby was right, that that was a good film to make to have made first but Canadian funding bodies were. We're not.
Brett Pardy 14:11
I'm kind of surprised the Canadian funding bodies went for rhymes for young ghouls. To like, I really want to know how that happened. Because it just is not something that that's not the sort of thing Canadian film making likes.
Alex Heeney 14:25
Yeah, I don't know. I mean, as far as like in the history of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation attempts, claims, I don't know what to call it because we're doing a shitty job.
Brett Pardy 14:41
Yeah, kind of wanting public praise for suggesting that we might do something someday.
Alex Heeney 14:48
Oh, that's, that's, that's that's the perfect distillation of it.
Brett Pardy 14:52
Maybe but as long as it's maybe as long as we can still as long as sellers can still feel good about it. Ah, yeah, we'll do it. Maybe.
Alex Heeney 15:01
But so I mean, in that context, we were talking before we started recording about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports, which were published in 2016. So rhymes for young ghouls, you know, has in it a lot of things that settlers wouldn't have known about because they didn't become matters of like settler public record until 2016. And rhymes was 2013, I believe. And the commission began in 2008. So they may have been at the point where they were like, Oh, someone wants to make a film about residential schools, we should probably do that. And maybe didn't look that closely, or quite understand. Or maybe they thought that was a triumphant story, because Aila doesn't quite Yeah, totally have to go to like, maybe they maybe they kind of got the through line. They're like, Oh, this girl avoids residential school. And she's plucky and they're like, Oh, cool. Sign me up. And they just kind of miss that the film was about her. Everyone was traumatized for generations, and there was no way out. I mean,
Brett Pardy 16:03
it's also impressively cheap. It was $1.5 million. Which, if
Alex Heeney 16:08
you want, oh, my God, how did you do?
Brett Pardy 16:12
To write that for one and a half? Canadian.
Orla Smith 16:15
He's working with relatively few locations. Like you can see how and there's not really many effects, which is probably why they were less likely to do blood quantum and more like this can like we can pay you like no money to make this right. And it will still like be possible. Right?
Brett Pardy 16:37
There's still more effects than you would expect for a million and a half dollars. Why seek with
Alex Heeney 16:42
an animal? Yeah.
Brett Pardy 16:45
Alex Heeney 16:46
is I mean, the makeup budget might have been must have been quite a bit because there's a lot of people getting beaten up. And then with bruises and cuts, and all all of that.
Brett Pardy 16:56
I think the film was actually impressed is very economical, and how it shows the violence, though, because it does, yes. Because I showed this to a group largely of settler viewers once and the place showing it was concerned that this was going to be, you know, too, too, too upsetting and too violent. But I was pointing out that, which seems like the whole point of it was we were looking at, you know, legacies of colonialism, which kind of hard not be violent. And like there's no way you'd say Rhymes for Young Ghouls is like reveling in this violence. It's handling it about as responsibly as it can that the only act of violence that we actually see fully in front of the camera is when kind of at the end when the Indian agent is shot, that most other acts of violence are implied. And it cuts away just before it happens.
Alex Heeney 17:46
Yeah, I mean, even blood quantum does that quite a bit, even though it does show some really graphic stuff. There's a lot of scenes where it's implied violence. But I mean, I think it's
Brett Pardy 17:58
like nothing sadistic about Jeff Barnaby. Yeah, I
Alex Heeney 18:01
mean, I think, like what, as far as I'm aware rhymes for young ghouls was basically our first fiction film to deal with residential schools, which I should kind of put in quotes, because they're called schools, but they were more like concentration camps for children.
Brett Pardy 18:17
I believe it was.
Alex Heeney 18:19
And, you know, now because we're looking back at this almost a decade later, we can see what other films have been made about residential schools. And there's like Indian horse, which you've seen, I mean, I've seen it too, but you have more articulate things to say about it than I do, right.
Brett Pardy 18:38
I mean, the scenes in residential school are designed very much to make white people cry is how I would describe how residential schools are treated in horse mean. Slow Motion scene where a kid is locked in a cramped closet as a children's choir sings Ave Maria. It's a it's a heavy handed film. Rhymes for Young Ghouls, I think what I was saying that there's not much violence. It manages to make the scene where I was hairs cut off the most violent scene.
Alex Heeney 19:06
Oh, my God. Yeah. So I mean, I think it's, I think it's still the most traumatic of the films like, as far as if you think about like a gut response that I had to rise for young goals compared to like these other films. Rhymes for young ghouls hit me way harder. But he doesn't do it with gratuitous violence.
Brett Pardy 19:27
And what's scary about the nuns in it is they're not like cackling evil. They're just not even human. Almost just sort of there. Yeah. Like just forcing people to do things, but they have no, they have no reaction to it at all. And that's terrifying.
Orla Smith 19:44
I want to say like, Brett, this is a film that you've chosen to teach. Yeah, quite a lot. Right. Yeah. And I think maybe I'd be interested in in hearing you talk about why.
Brett Pardy 19:56
I think it's that I like that it is trying to hit you on an emotional We'll first and then you're going to, once you feel how things are, then you're interested in why things are that way. The film doesn't try and reverse that round. I really liked the sequence where Isla is mixing a bunch of joints with different substances. And she talks about how there's this kind of the importance of forgetting within the community. And I feel it kind of works to explain kind of how not only the residential school system was bad, but like, entire culture of the reserve is shattered, because what used to be a communal thing is now the only way to survive this kind of taking advantage of someone else's desire to forget their trauma.
Orla Smith 20:47
And and to clarify for the rest that you're you're teaching it in the context of like how films create empathy. Yes.
Alex Heeney 20:54
Which if you haven't listened to our episode with Brett, after his dissertation defense, he does have a PhD in how films do attempt to create empathy, I guess is
Brett Pardy 21:06
he was one of the three films that I wrote on in Yeah, dissertation. Largely because I was looking for particularly a film around indigenous settler issues. And I was looking for a film that wasn't trying that wasn't trying to didactically explain things. That's still a fairly limited pool of films, sadly,
Alex Heeney 21:29
yeah. Well, especially when you are conducting your research, because that would have been would have been about four years ago. I mean, I feel like a lot has changed in four years. Four years ago, we couldn't there just weren't 10 indigenous films being made that we could put on our top 10 lists? Yes, because there weren't 10 of them. It wasn't even that like there weren't 10 Great Ones, there just weren't 10. And, you know, when we made our list of the best films of the the 2010s, this was Ryan strangles was our number six. And Brett, you yelled at us it wasn't high enough on the list. And I think you're right. I mean, Orlando, I have had this discussion, we would have changed a lot of things on that.
Brett Pardy 22:12
Right, I would have always very difficult as long as I'm happy.
Orla Smith 22:16
Yeah. Yeah, we need to get back to that list at some point. Oh, God,
Alex Heeney 22:20
let's not open that can of worms.
Brett Pardy 22:22
I mean, I find it hard to talk about because I just like the like, I liked how the film kind of washes over you. Like, if we shot it edited in a really propelling interesting way for the most part.
Orla Smith 22:35
And it's just really good at like, being a film that shows how these people have no good options. Like, even when there's like a triumphant defeat of the bad guys, it's still at the cost of like, people's well being in some way, whether that's like, traumatizing in in multiple different ways. So even things that might seem like temporary wins, still don't solve things for the characters, but it is able to tell that very bleak story of trauma in this genre casing that still makes it even at times kind of entertaining.
And I think he's someone who was very interested in like, finding ways to tell very profound stories of colonial trauma in a way that was compelling to general audiences. And to like, bring those stories to a mainstream through the use of genre. And I think, you know, it's a real shame that we didn't get to see him become more prominent, and bring those stories to even larger audiences. I mean, in an interview that you did with him, Alex, he talked about how he wants to kind of like do a movie for every classic monster like he did his zombie movie. You want to do like your vampire movie in this kind of movie. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 24:09
I can actually quote what he said. Yeah, he says, I've always been a hardcore horror fan. I almost feel like I have a classic monster trilogy in me about zombies, werewolves and vampires. If I go to my grave, having done a genre film with each one of those monsters, I die a happy man, which is just like really depressing reading now.
Orla Smith 24:30
Yeah. I mean, he did one. But you know, it's very sad to think about what we didn't get.
Brett Pardy 24:38
And he also talked about doing a cosmic horror film about the end of the world and someone trying to escape their fallen their fallen city to get home, which sounded interesting. So you had you had lots of ideas?
Alex Heeney 24:52
Oh, yeah. Well, I'm yeah, like, I, I mean, I think one of the miracles of rhymes for young ghouls is to film it's full of ideas and That also doesn't feel like a first draft, you know, like, it is technically a first feature. And in no way are we ever talking about this film as though it's a first feature. I mean, he kind of he, I mean, he had made a few shorts that were pretty impressive. But he like launched into this is like a fully formed filmmaker. And yeah, for me the film, I've seen it several times. And every time I watch it, I feel like I missed a third of what happened. And I don't think that I'm an unattentive viewer, I just think there's, you know, that's, that's the mark of a great film is that there is you see new things every time you watch it, and I think especially as a settler, and thus, you know, fairly ignorant. Every time I watch it, having learned more and gotten more context, there are more things in it that I get that went over my head. And I think you know, what you were saying Orla, like about how he shows the the impacts of things that happen on the community. I think it's it's really a great film about systemic issues, while like, it basically has this simple three line of the story is there's a teenage girl named ALA, she is trying to stay out of residential school by bribing the truant officers, which she manages to get money for her by having a drug business that she runs with her. Her uncle. That's kind of an you know, a big part of the plot hinges on the fact that her stash of money from her drugs gets stolen. And so is she going to be able to pay the guy in time to stay at a residential school, and a bunch of stuff happens. That's like the basic plot. But there's so many intricacies because it's a film about community and everything that happens in it, you see the knock on effects, like on the one hand, Ayla is kind of you know, she's played by Deborah Jacobs, who's incredibly charismatic. She's styled is very cool. And she's Devery Jacob. So you root for her. And you're like, Oh, she's she's found a way around the system. But it's like, yeah, but as Brett was saying, her solution to survive is that she provides, on the one hand, she's providing drugs to people to help them survive. On the other hand, she's part of the problem that's causing problems on the reserve. And, you know, part of her trauma stems from the fact that her mother died by suicide after accidentally running over her brother when her mother was drunk. Like, and as she says in the film, that she aged 1000 years,
Brett Pardy 27:47
and her dad decided to go to prison for that rather than actually faced up to the trauma of that having to raise his daughter by himself.
Alex Heeney 27:58
Right? Well, and the flip side of that is he also did but at the same time, he also did that because ala was like, technically in front of the wheel like not that you should blame children for this, but he was also trying to protect his daughter. So like, all of these things have multiple meanings and multiple resonances. You know, like, her uncle who has been charged with taking care of her in the absence of her incarcerated father is a snitch, who gets paid by the Indian agents to snitch on the other indigenous people on the reserve, and get them in trouble. And there's a scene early on in the film, where you see this raid on a strip club, where the Indian agents are beating up all these indigenous people to a bloody pulp and her uncle is get some cash in his pocket. And he stands by looking, you know, unhappy about what's going on. And then, shortly after, there's a scene in which he gets beaten to a bloody pulp by a bunch of other indigenous people for being a snitch and somewhere percolating in the background is like, Well, why is he a stitch? Is it really that he's profiting from it? Or is this like part of his deal with the Indian agents to help keep Ayla out of residential school? Like how much of this is for her benefit? Like I don't think the film answers the question, but it raises it. Though I don't know that I caught that on the first viewings, but like because ala thinks that she's paying off the Indian agent and that's how she's staying out. And I suspect there's a lot more going on behind the scenes that she's not aware of.
Orla Smith 29:39
Yet he was a person who like I think he spoke a lot publicly on his Twitter moment mainly about how you know, who was not short on ideas and how he felt that he was being, you know, excluded for Have a lot of opportunities excluded from support, like support to make more films to make films in the way that he wanted to. He was very, very open about how hostile he felt that the film industry was to him, rightfully so. And I did have like, weird feelings again, about the way people talked about that, or the way they didn't talk about that when he died. I mean, he died very young, he was 46. So certainly, you know, a lot of the career he could have had was cut short. But at the same time, he started making films 18 years ago, and he made his shot his first feature film almost a decade ago. We didn't even if he had to die at age 46. We didn't need to only have to Jeff Barnaby feature film. Like, he, he was ready to go, it seems you know, he had all this potential in him and
Alex Heeney 31:11
eat films in the last 10 years.
Orla Smith 31:14
Yeah. And when we say oh, it's such a shame he died so young, he could have made all these films. Actually, I think we should also say, it's such a shame that the Canadian film industry prevented him from making all the films that he should have made while he was still alive. Beyond the films that he would have made after he died that
Alex Heeney 31:33
they delayed him so much on the ones he did make, because the colony was what 2008. Yeah. And that I think doesn't seven. Okay, so that was a short film of that. That's the film that everybody talks about as like, you know, wow, this is a this guy's a big deal. And it took, so six years between that. And when Ron three angles was made, like that's
Orla Smith 31:59
that he was a known quantity, he was a known
Alex Heeney 32:02
quantity. Yeah. And hugely respected a, he should have been able to make a feature.
Orla Smith 32:08
And while many establishes the kind of genre style that he would then go into work. Yeah, like, you know, he made it clear what he wanted to say. And I think it's great to celebrate the films he made, but also like, let's not forget how much of a toll they took on him. Like he would often on Twitter talk about how he was thinking about giving up because it was just took so much out of him to try to, like, make it by as a filmmaker. Yeah. And that's partly because like, he wasn't being given opportunities, and partly also because, because his films were so low budget, and just not given, like the resources and support they needed. He, he had to, you know, wear so many hats, like, I think you asked me at one point, Alex, like why, you know, he like to direct rate, compose and edit his film, so you can post music for them as well, he edited them. And his answer was basically like, well, because we didn't really have the money to pay someone else to do it. Yeah, and he's very good at those things, certainly. But you don't always want to like be break your back, like, not get any sleep, trying to do the job. So if 10 Different people Yeah. And there's a quote from the interview that you did with him on blog content that I find really sad. That's at the very end of the interviews, which I'll just read in full. And he says, where it becomes exhausting and frustrating is that you wanted things a certain way. And you realize it would have worked a certain way. And you lament, having left that on the page or left at onset, with low content because of time and money issues. I've never experienced more loss from script to screen that I have with this film. So that's really at the end of the day, what exhausts you, not the physical labor or the mental labor, because if you're doing this, you love it. It's not what you want. It's, it's gotten, it's not getting what you want, and realizing it months after years after in this case, I just watched it this morning. And all I noticed were the fucking mistakes. You can't appreciate your own work on that level. That's where it becomes taxing. And I love that he was very upfront about saying that even when promoting his own film. Yeah. He was like, watching this film was painful for me because I didn't get to make it the way that I wanted to. And it took so much out of me. And I think he was he was important as a filmmaker because of the films he made. But also because of the way that he wasn't afraid to say that like he shouldn't have had to make them in the way that he did. Yeah, And I think we should talk about that more around his death. Because clearly based on the way that he talks about his own work he that's a message that he wanted out there about his films and about his experience in the industry.
Alex Heeney 35:16
Yeah, I think when he said that, to us, that changed a lot how we looked at indigenous films, because we became really aware of the budgeting constraints. Because I think when we review and discuss indigenous films, we always talk about the caveat of how they weren't allowed to make the film that they wanted to make. And that the there's different, you can't quite judge it on the same standard as a film that is allowed to achieve its potential. And that you can see that a lot happening in indigenous films that are made in Canada. And you know, he's not the only filmmaker to lament this.
Orla Smith 35:57
More ideas, and there was budget.
Alex Heeney 36:00
And there's, I think there's huge ambition, right? You Loretta Todd, who made Monkey Beach said, said, You can't survive colonialism and not be epic. And I think they were there's a lot of desire to make these big, epic stories for good reason. And, you know, it's kind of a miracle that, like, runs your angles is that and I don't know how he made it on the tiny budget he had, you know, we've had lots of great films that have been made on not on shoestring budgets, but you also can feel how much was probably left on the page. And then you can also get killed that by the filmmaker.
Brett Pardy 36:37
And it's so rare in a world where at the moment where everyone is so over the top promotional to be that honest, yeah. That's what was cool about his Twitter account, because like, artists are always using their, their social media. It's just endless kind of hype for themselves. And he was just always so regular and honest about what he was into what he was thinking on his Twitter, it was. I can't think of many filmmakers like that.
Alex Heeney 37:07
Yeah, I'm the way that like, you could actually see the complexities and the contradictions there. Like, because he died a couple of weeks before the imaginative Film Festival happened this year. And so I was going back and because I'd remembered he'd said a lot of things about imaginenative Through the years and of course, I was thinking about him and his legacy as imaginenative rolled around, and I was looking back back at his tweets, and it's, you know, if you search Jeff Barnaby and imaginenative, you see tweets that say everything from you know, like, you want to see films by women go to imaginenative. It's great. And you know, what a great screening we had. And oh, they're doing this thing with Devery, and lots of lots of laudatory things about them. And then at the same time, you also have tweets where he talks about how when rounds from young for young girls screened to imaginenative It got a standing ovation, but it lost the award to satellite. Well, he didn't say this, he said to a white woman, but if you look it up, it's it was satellite boy, which was, which is actually a David gobble feature. He's in that film. It was made by white women, Australian film, and that one, and he actually quotes one of the jurors in one of his tweets about how they said they felt that run three angles was too bleak, basically something like that.
Brett Pardy 38:25
Which is, of course, exactly when you're running an indigenous film, you can be concerned about?
Alex Heeney 38:32
Yeah, um, he felt hard done that by a lot of organizations that were supposed to uplift indigenous people for good reason. And, you know, that made him somewhat of a controversial figure because he had really strong opinions about how indigenous films should be made by indigenous people, not just have some indigenous people in the cast or have an indigenous script editor who, okay is a script written by a white person,
Brett Pardy 39:05
which when you say that out loud, doesn't really sound that controversial.
Alex Heeney 39:08
No, I know. But like, oh, it's true. Like all he got through that, you know, and he told people, he said this stuff, face to face to people in power, and they blacklisted him.
Brett Pardy 39:20
I know how Darren artists have integrity. No.
Orla Smith 39:24
I was saying that, like, he was just someone who, who definitely just who wasn't just in it for himself, like he was very passionate about, like, indigenous cinema as a whole and did things like I mean, his support of Devery Jacobs was unwavering. And he even when she moved into filmmaking, making shorts, produce some of her shorts, right.
Alex Heeney 39:47
Yeah. I mean, he fought for her to be in rights for young goals. When I interviewed Deborah, she actually told this story about like, they really didn't want to let her star in this film because she was an unknown quantity and Jaffa really believed in her and he, like, really fought for her. And of course, she was the perfect person to start the film. And the film launched her career and she herself, as you know, has not gotten, you know, I mean, she's becoming a star now. But it's taken too long. It's been 10 years, like, where all the starring roles you should have had in the last decade.
Orla Smith 40:22
Um, yeah, that's, that's another thing where it's like, you know, we can celebrate that every Jacobs is, you know, getting nominated for awards now, and winning awards. But like, let's also talk about like, how, you know, if she was like a white settler, she would have been, like, super famous right after Ryan Hsiung goals.
Alex Heeney 40:45
Yeah. One, I think also, it's, you know, something that she had said to me, I'm paraphrasing your video, I should look it up. You know, before Ryan's for young girl. She's just never seen anybody who looked like her in a film on screen. And she felt like she there was no space for her in the film industry. And then she met Jeff Barnaby and got to make rounds for young girls. And suddenly, she felt like maybe there was a place for her in the industry. And of course, in the next few years was a lot of people telling her that there wasn't space for her. Until, you know, she started to find some footholds and the world started to change.
Orla Smith 41:23
And she she, you know, she's been in a lot of indigenous films lately, that arguably, like a getting made now because of the influence of someone like Jeff Barnaby. Yeah, absolutely. So he he helped create an environment in which someone like Devery Jacobs could have a career.
Alex Heeney 41:46
Yeah, I mean, even the idea that we have this whole genre of like indigenous genre films, we didn't have enough indigenous fiction films before that, that you could even say that that existed as as a genre. But now we have Knight raiders and Monkey Beach and, and Jeff Barnaby films. In Canada, there's this, there's others in other countries as well. And we've talked about Jeff Barnaby having a Twitter presence that was, you know, influential and important, but I, we haven't really talked about the fact that he also is like a very accessible person on Twitter. Like, he acted like a regular guy, which a lot of filmmakers don't, even if they are regular guys. And I mean, I guess I'm the only one who's actually interacted with Jeff Barnaby on Twitter. I mean, I didn't do it very much. But I met him on Twitter before I had seen rise for young girls because I was tweeting about how I wanted to see the film and somebody was an but I was living in the States at the time. And where can I find it and somebody tagged him in and I like he told me how I was going to be able to see his film, which is kind of wild. And you know, he was pretty generous. Like you followed him, he'd follow you. And then like, I know, he read some of my tweets, because he responded to them. I know he listened to our episode on his films, because he tweeted at us about it. So
Brett Pardy 43:23
honestly, a bit a bit nerve wracking.
Alex Heeney 43:25
It was very, might have thought about it a little differently. If I know and he was going to be listening to it. You kind of expect these things to go out into the void. And then when directors actually listened to your podcasts on their film, you freak the hell out.
Orla Smith 43:39
Alex Heeney 43:40
has happened a few times. It has Yeah. Yeah. So I think I mean, he was kind of a generous, he's just a very generous presence. I mean, he also was kind of an angry presence, you know, justifiably so. But
Orla Smith 43:56
I mean, he talked about his anger at the world and the unfairness of the world and the film industry, as well, a lot. And I think that's something he was very passionate about using Twitter as a platform for.
Alex Heeney 44:14
Yeah, but he was also like, just like a film Twitter guy in a way like, yeah, like, even a couple times, I posted questions about like, what are movies about? Blah, what are your favorite movies like blah, and, you know, he responded to them, like, like a human.
Orla Smith 44:30
And he was very funny on Twitter. Yeah.
Alex Heeney 44:35
And, you know, like, I mean, my experience was, you know, once I really put my foot in it, and he reached out to me and DM to me and helps me not do that again and try and crawl my way out of there, which was a very generous thing for him to do and did not have to do in my senses. That was just something that he did like it was Didn't, I'm not alone. I mean, Brett, I don't know if you want to mention this, but you were saying that you knew somebody who reached out to him who was doing work on.
Brett Pardy 45:10
Yeah, one of my colleagues was, was putting together an indigenous film class. And she's indigenous from New Zealand and was looking for Canadian films. And she was talking to Jeff Barnaby on Twitter. And then they were DMing about ideas for the class. And that was just in September, like a month, month and a half before he died. Like, it's amazing. He's taking the time to help shape that class.
Alex Heeney 45:37
Yeah, I mean, I get I get the, I think he really cared about these things. So I think if you reached out to him, and he knew you cared, he would talk to you.
Orla Smith 45:47
Yeah, it wasn't just posturing. He would do these things privately and do work that again, he didn't need to do, but he felt very passionate about, I think he, you know, brez no idea. Just how much like that conversation you had with him in DMS, has just affected our the way we like, interviewed indigenous filmmakers from then on. Yeah, he just says, as he said, his talking openly about how difficult it has been to make his films at a low budget has influenced the way we think about indigenous film. He's also an influencer reporting, when talking to indigenous filmmakers, just from sort of small but important acts of putting himself out there to tell people when they're wrong.
Alex Heeney 46:45
And he's one of the only people who's really talking about, you know, what it was like to work in the Canadian film industry as an indigenous person. There was a lot of inside baseball stuff, you know, including his both praise and complaints about imaginative, that was a real insight. And, you know, I would have, it feels like, not only have we lost a great filmmaker and changemaker and you know, person who is uplifting other indigenous people, we've also lost a huge I mean, I don't know how much he talked about this, or how many people know, but like, he was a huge resource as far as understanding the history of Indigenous filmmaking, fiction filmmaking in Canada, and what that scene was like. He knew it in a way other people didn't, because he was there first. And because he was willing to talk about it, and now we've lost that whole body of knowledge. You know, there's, you know, there's snippets that are left, there's this Twitter account, there is what he told other people. So you know, we have little bits and pieces, but it feels like a huge cultural memory loss.
Orla Smith 47:58
And, you know, we've published one really great interview with him on seven throw, but I think we've always had, like, sort of in the back of our head, like this idea that like, oh, it would be great to sort of if he was willing, do longer profiles. So Jeff Barnaby, yeah, someone that like, we pick his brain, he has so much to say he's so fascinating. And he's so passionate about what he says like, it felt like, of course, like in the future will, like, publish a long profile or multiple with Jeff Barnaby. And now to realize that, like, that knowledge won't be imparted anymore. It's very sad.
Alex Heeney 48:44
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when I interviewed him, I kind of thought that was the first of many interviews that I hoped to do. To hear what he had to say about so many things. And
Orla Smith 49:00
because that I think there are a ton of very in depth, lengthy profiles of him or interviews of going in deep about any of his specific films and filmmaking. And they would have been good if the one we did with him was any indication. Yeah. Well, I would have had a lot of swears in them. A lot.
Alex Heeney 49:24
Well, there aren't a lot of people who care about cinema tomate in Canada, viewer still who care about indigenous cinema. You know, I was once I was recently looking through the profiles of like grad students in film studies across most of the major Canadian universities where I was aware they had film studies programs, and there are zero people working on contemporary Canadian cinema, let alone cinema. Yeah. Wow. I mean, I didn't look everywhere I look to where did I look? I looked at McGill. I looked at SFU I looked at UBC U of T Concordia Ottawa. I
Brett Pardy 50:00
know you've covered all the main ones. Yeah,
Alex Heeney 50:02
I think I looked at Dalhousie or somewhere out out east and I couldn't believe that nobody was working on this because I thought I thought I want to do like why this program, there's got to be like a grad students somewhere, right like or who's who's working on indigenous film in Canada, or even just Canadian film. And I, I couldn't find it, I couldn't believe it. And anybody who said they might there were some people who said they were like interested in indigenous film, but they, you know, they weren't doing anything about it, I'd look and see their advisors and their advisors weren't publishing on that either. So like, that's a pretty, pretty depressing state of affairs. And then when you look at, you know, who covers this stuff, like, to my knowledge, there is one person in Canada, who is indigenous and writes about film, and she's not a film critic. She's a journalist who occasionally writes about film and programs film. And so what it's where it's left to the settler press, and most people, you know, they're the publications don't want to publish it, because it's not going to move hits or just don't care. And, you know, as you can tell, from the reviews of Ron's around gills that you were talking about, Brett like, there aren't a lot of people, you know, are there people who he can who can ask him the right questions, because they are informed. And I'm not saying I'm that person, but I'm more informed than do really really depressingly what it seems to be most people out there. Like, I was really hoping that I could find somebody who was like the academic in this, you know,
Orla Smith 51:36
I mean, I think we've tried very hard to approach writing about indigenous film and interviewing indigenous filmmakers in the right way. And that's yeah, a long learning process. Yeah, but the ideal situation would be that, like, there would be an infrastructure in place where like, there were indigenous film critics with that specialty. Who were being supported by, like, major publishing institutions, who could do that work themselves.
Alex Heeney 52:05
Yeah. Exactly. And that we could, you know, maybe do some work that they don't want to do about communicating to settlers, but
Orla Smith 52:15
we will continue to try our best with this stuff. And I think do better than some of the settler news media and film media in Canada, but like, you know, we're gonna make mistakes. Because yeah, what happened, Jeff? Jeff Barnaby can't correct us anymore. He did. Yeah. And, you know, the we weren't, it's hard to know what you don't know, and what we're losing out on because those perspectives don't exist. Yeah. At least in publishing in major publishing.
Alex Heeney 52:54
So we've talked a lot about Jeff Barney B's feature films, Ryan's for young girls and blood quantum. And, you know, the films he didn't get to make and now will not get to make but I think one of the things that is still a discovery for many people, and was a discovery for me actually finding these as we were preparing for this episode are his short films, which, you know, they are actually out there and available. And I think we'd recommend checking them all out. Right, you had some thoughtful things to say about his first short, from Cherry English.
Brett Pardy 53:30
I think all of his films actually have a have really strong moments of using horror imagery as a way to communicate kind of indigenous history and the dramatic violence that's occurred to them like, like in from Cherry English, there's a scene where, when an indigenous man is real, is asked to say something in his language is like, I don't know anything in my language.
Alex Heeney 53:54
That's a white person. So yeah, she says in Indian.
Brett Pardy 53:58
Yes. And then there's a scene where his tongue literally comes out of his mouth. And he's been trying to, like, jam it back in. So that's a very interesting visual metaphor for losing a language. Yeah, the call when he has some some intense chainsaw action?
Alex Heeney 54:19
Oh, my God. Oh, yes. And then he also made a short for the National Film Board where he was editing together. It's called bleed down,
Brett Pardy 54:35
which is definitely my favorite of them. Yeah. Because even though he's just selecting archival imagery, it comes across as this really chilling horror film, the way he edits it together, and the music and the pacing. And it also shows you the callousness of some of the things that were filmed and put in the archives
Alex Heeney 54:57
bleed down as part of a series of short films that were commissioned. And by the National Film Board from indigenous filmmakers or who are then thought to be indigenous. Michelle Latimer is one of them. But including Jeff Barnaby, and also Carolyn mnay, where they were asked to work with archival footage to make a five minute short film. I've seen Carolyn Monet's film, and it's kind of a little miracle because it looks exactly like her other shorts, like all of the she picks the same kind of images. As you see in her other shorts. It feels exactly like a Carolyn Monet film. And then here with bleed down, you have Jeff Barnaby, and it's like the same. You know, as Brett said, it's like a horror film and a really angry one about the horrors of colonialism. And you know, he takes this footage that is, was produced by a colonialist organization made by settlers, I'm sure shot through an extremely colonialist lens and takes it and uses it to expose the horrors of colonialism in a way that only Jeff Barnaby Can I think, something we didn't talk too much about, but I think is all mentioned as he's you know, he has edited all his films, and he's really great editor. And you really see that and bleed down. I think it's, you know, if you really want to see what, how much a filmmaker put their stamp on archival material, by the way they edit it. Souvenir is a great series for that. And Jeff Barney's film is, I think, a really strong indicator of that. So we will put in the show notes links to all of his films, which fortunately, are all available worldwide. You can even just download the colony off of Vimeo. They're all free to watch online. And something that Jeff Barnaby talked a lot about with blood quantum was how influenced he was by the Anishnaabe, a filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, who has made some real landmark documentaries for the National Film Board here in Canada. And I'm sure he would want people to be checking out those films, who were admirers of his films and want somewhere more somewhere further to look.
Orla Smith 57:13
Thank you so much for listening. Again, we implore you to seek out Barnabus work and we'll include information on how to find it in the show notes. If you do watch his films, please let us know about it. And please share them with other people. We've talked about Barnaby on this podcast before in episodes that are now a members only. Those would be episode 39 on rhymes via angles, and bad content. And our two part series on indigenous way which is episode 62 and 63. You can become a member at seven dash show.com/join. Also, we did an episode that's free to the public that we mentioned in this episode, which is a bonus episode number 27. In which we talk to Brett about his PhD on empathy in film. And he one of the key texts that he discusses in his PhD is rhymes for young girls. So we talk about that film in that context there as well. So I will link that in the show notes for you. We will also link in the show notes to our on site written interview with Barnaby which was quoted in this episode. I really recommend reading it his insights and his passion. incredibly compelling. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love for you to let us know. You can email us at contact at seven dash rho.com or tweet at us all at at seventh row a CV and t h o w it's the same on Instagram. But the best way to tell us what you think of the pod is by rating and reviewing on Apple podcast. It helps a ton and always makes our day. We'll see you next time
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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