We started off the film series in Hallowe’en week with Rhymes for Young Ghouls, a film by Jeff Barnaby (2013, 88 min.). It is a fictional film set in 1976 on the Red Crow Mi’gMaq reservation. The story is based on the government decree, in which every Indian child under the age of 18 must attend residential school. In the kingdom of the Crow, that means imprisonment at the fictional residential school, St. Dymphna’s. The sadistic Indian agent, Popper runs the school. At fifteen, the movie’s heroine, Aila is the weed princess of Red Crow. Hustling with her uncle Burner, she sells enough dope to pay Popper her truancy tax, keeping her out of St. Dymphna’s. But when Aila’s drug money is stolen and her father Joseph returns from prison, the precarious balance of Aila’s world is destroyed. Her only options are to run or fight and Mi’gMaq don’t run.

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(Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Poster, 2013)

I encourage people to read the very informative blog post discussing the film at https://decolonization.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/on-violence-and-vengeance-rhymes-for-young-ghouls-and-the-horrific-history-of-canadas-indian-residential-schools/

Through the month of November we screened three Shelley Niro films, Robert’s Painting (2011, 52 min.), Kissed by Lightning (2009, 89 min.) and Honey Moccasin (1998, 47 min. b/w). Shelley Niro (Mohawk) is a photographer, painter, sculptor, bead worker, multimedia artist, and independent filmmaker. She is a member of the Turtle Clan at Six Nations of the Grand River, Ontario. Niro’s work has been shown across Canada, the USA and internationally.

 Robert’s Paintings (2011), is a film about the painter Robert Houle, a Saulteaux artist, curator, critic, and educator. He has had an active curatorial and artistic practice since the mid-1970s. Like many of his generation, Houle was schooled in the residential school system. In the film, he expressively talks about his experiences at the school. In recent years he created a body of work encapsulating his memories from childhood. As an adult and teacher, he used this opportunity to give witness to his life and the many others who passed through the corridors of what is now known as Canada’s shame.  In the film we meet friends and family who share stories about Robert and what his paintings mean to them. This film is about not forgetting and contributing to the collective memory of a nation. In its own way it is a celebration.

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(Kissed by Lightning, 2009 poster)  (Honey Moccasin, 1998 film still)

The feature-film, Kissed by Lightning is a remarkable tale of spiritual awakening, set in deepest winter in the woodlands of Canada. The film is multi-dimensional and multi-layered; it’s a love story symbolically based on the 14th Century Iroquois legend of Peacemaker and Hiawatha. Mavis Dogblood (Kateri Walker) is a heart-broken Mohawk painter who keeps the memory of her dead husband, Jessie Lightning (Michael Greyeyes), alive in her paintings, through the recreation of the stories he would tell her.  She struggles to move on, but when an upcoming art exhibition in New York requires Mavis to embark on a road trip, she finds herself faced with the difficult task of letting go. Her journey across the border is the beginning of allowing herself to begin anew.

The third film, Honey Moccasin investigated the authenticity, cultural identity, and the articulation of modern Native American experience in cinematic language and pop culture.  Niro’s all-Native production from the late 1990s was considered to be a part of the Smoke Signals wave of films that examined of Native identity from an Indigenous point of view. This film is a comedy/thriller complete with a fashion show and torchy musical numbers, this witty film employs a surreal pastiche of styles to depict the rivalry between bars The Smokin’ Moccasin and The Inukshuk Cafe, the saga of closeted drag queen/powwow clothing thief Zachary John, and the travails of crusading investigator Honey Moccasin. Honey Moccasin is set on the Grand Pine Indian Reservation, aka “Reservation X”. The film combines elements of melodrama, performance art, cable access, and ‘whodunit’ to question conventions of ethnic and sexual identity as well as film narrative. It is an irreverent re-appropriation of familiar narrative strategies and Indigenous identities.

The final film of the Autumn term, was Before Tomorrow (2008, 93min.), co-directed by Marie-Helene Cousineau and Madeline Ivalu.  The film was shot near Puvirnituq in Nunavik, northern Quebec.  The film is an adaptation of the novel Før Morgendagen by Danish writer Jørn Riel. It was the third film released by Igloolik Isuma Productions, an Inuit film studio best known for the film Atanarjuat, and was the first feature film to be made by Arnait Video Productions, a women’s Inuit film collective.

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(Before Tomorrow, 2008, poster)

In the film, two isolated families meet for a summertime celebration. Food is abundant and the future seems bright, but Ningiuq, a wise old woman, sees her world as fragile and moves through it with a pervasive sense of dread. As the story progresses, Ningiuq (Madeline Ivalu) and her grandson Maniq ((Paul-Dylan Ivalu) are dropped off on a remote island, where, every year, the family dries the catch and stores it for winter. The task is soon finished. As summer turns to fall, they wait in vain for the others to pick them up. Set in a small Inuit community in the Nunavik region of northern Quebec in the 1840s, the film tells the story of the loss of their community through as a result of a smallpox epidemic transmitted by strange traders.

It became apparent as we watched these films that whether documentary or fictional they each inform in their own way, ordinary human experiences. Film is unequalled in the way that it is able to capture our imagination and hold our attention. It is understood amongst film theorists that film has a unique ability to give the viewer a chance to see and understand things in a new light (forgive the pun). Perhaps it is because when the lights go off we give ourselves over to the story that the director-artist is about to tell us.

In our discussions following each film it was pointed out that the films would each in their own way be a valid resource for the classroom, because as we continue to work toward reconciliation and implementing the recommendations/ Calls to Action of the TRC into our educational experiences, film can be an entry point to education, telling the story and sharing knowledge.

The weekly Indigenous Film Series begins the Winter term on Thursday, January 26th

4-6pm, Education Building, (3700 McTavish) Rm. 233.

Film Schedule (titles subject to availability)

January 19 – * We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (2016)

An NFB film by Alanis Obomsawin Showing at Cinema de Parc, 3575 Avenue du Parc 5pm    Co-presented by NFB and McGill University

January 26 The People of the Kattawapiskak River (2012, NFB, Alanis Obomsawin, Dir., 78 min.)

February 2 Hi-Ho Mistahey  (2013, NFB, Alanis Obomsawin, Dir., 100 min.)

February 9 Needle, Bead and Voice  Yukon artist Nicole Bauberger’s video interview of Mrs. Annie Smith and Ms. Dianne Smith, two Kwanlin Dun elders, discussing artworks in the Yukon Permanent Art Collection with Nicole Bauberger. The artist will be in attendance.

February 16  Reel Injun (2009, NFB, Neil Diamond, Dir., 88 min.)

February 23 Redskins, Tricksters, and Puppy Stew (2000, NFB, Drew Hayden Taylor, Dir., 54 min.)

March 2 NO FILM – Reading Week

March 9 –  Smoke Signals (1998, USA, Chris Eyre, Dir., 89 min.)

March 16 – Rabbit Proof Fence (2002, Australian, Phillip Noyse dir., 94 min.)

March 23 – Dance Me Outside (Bruce McDonald dir., 1995, 91 min.)

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