Canada’s Indigenous filmmakers are riding the wave to screens

Indigenous filmmakers continue to make strides in Canada, building industry capacity on their own terms and telling stories that both honor their communities and reach global audiences. Toronto’s 2023 schedule offers audiences and buyers important, provocative and – because we need them – hilarious world premieres from established creators and emerging artists.

“Tautuktavuk (What We See)” is the latest from Isuma, the collective of Inuit-owned media companies best known for the Camera d’Or-winning film “Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner” (2001). “Tautuktavuk” was written and directed by film veterans Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk, who also play sisters who help each other heal from past and present trauma.

“Originally we were supposed to meet in the same house,” says Tulugarjuk, who lives in Montreal diversity. “I was supposed to film in Igloolik (in Nunavut) for three seasons, but when COVID hit, the world shut down. We had to put this reality in perspective – the southern pandemic versus the Arctic pandemic
– in the movie.”

While current radio programs about the pandemic are playing in the background, the sisters chat via video chat about their daily lives and their experiences with domestic violence. The healing power of community is shown in scenes—hunting and distributing community food, traditional songs sung in Inuktitut, drum dancing—that mix reality and fiction.

“When I was a child, I could rarely see drum dancing because it was forbidden [by colonial entities], but my father kept the tradition, thank God,” says Tulugarjuk. “If we bring our identity and strength to this film, there must be drum dances and songs.” Isuma Distribution Intl. takes care of the entire sale.

The international version of Abenaki documentarian Kim O’Bomsawin’s four-part documentary series Telling Our Story, part of a larger transmedia project, aims to decolonize the history of the 11 First Peoples of Quebec and surrounding areas. It bows in the primetime section of TIFF; Off the Fence handles U.S. and international sales.

Commissioned by the CBC, the series was filmed over a 75-day period, often in locations rarely seen on screen. She explores ancestral knowledge and contemporary experiences on the themes of territory, identity, spirituality and reconstruction.

O’Bomsawin, president of Indigenous production company Terre Innue, says she was “a token Indian” when she entered the screen industry 15 years ago. “It was hard to release our own stuff. Then we saw a shift in culture and practices, and funding began following Pathways and Protocols, the 2019 media production guide for working with Indigenous communities and stories.

“The opportunities are there now and that’s why we need to mentor and train new filmmakers – the momentum is there,” says O’Bomsawin, who has several new documentaries in the works. “Colonization did a good job of separating.”
ing us. The amazing thing is that we are now learning from each other.”

Guitarist and music producer Stevie Salas, who goes by Apache, first realized the power of documentary to capture attention when he served as executive producer of the multi-award-winning “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World.” He brings this concept to Boil Alert, which explores issues of water security and identity through the experiences of emerging activist Layla Staats, a Mohawk woman living in Six Nations of the Grand River (near Hamilton, Ontario). Canada) lives.

Produced and financed by Seeing Red 6 Nations, Salas’ production collaboration with Six Nations executive director Brian Porter, the documentary, which Salas co-directed with James Burns, visits some of the most affected First Nations communities in North America as Staats listens to individuals for change work.

“Lack of awareness could be the most dangerous thing for Indigenous people,” says Salas, who worked with Porter last year to install water filtration systems in Six Nation homes. “How many times have we been in a beautiful place and realized that if you drink that water you could die?

“We don’t need to bombard people with bad news and guilt. We want to show them the beauty too. And if we tell these stories right, people can be entertained as they learn and then show up and say something needs to be done.”

When Cody Lightning appears in Marvel’s “Echo” miniseries next year, some viewers may remember his turn as the younger version of Adam Beach’s character Victor in the 1998 Sundance award-winning “Smoke Signals.” Lightning revisits this world in meta style in his directorial debut “Hey Viktor!” a mockumentary in which Lightning, playing a fictional version of himself, is followed by a documentary crew as he attempts to make a sequel.

Lightning, who joked he would “completely unnerve Viktor” for years, worked with partner Josh Jackson and co-writer Sam Miller for three years “to figure out what was funny and heartbreaking about the character and how to redeem him.” After securing funding, they contacted North Country Cinema in Calgary, which understood the vision and kept production on track during the pandemic. Visit Films is
Handling US and international sales.

“Rez humor is the craziest, raunchiest humor in the world, yet there are no Indigenous comedies, at least no feature films,” says Lightning, who is from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alberta. “There are great films about serious topics – trauma, war, loss of language – but we also need to be able to laugh at ourselves. We hope our film inspires kids on every rez to pick up a camera and make a bullshit movie with their friends.”

However, Canada’s new generation of filmmakers is diverse. Below, diversity picks five to watch:

Meredith Hama Brown


“Seagrass” director, screenplay

If the opening weekend world premiere of her feature film debut in Toronto wasn’t exciting enough, Meredith Hama-Brown recently signed with Gersh, which is just one indication that the Japanese-Canadian filmmaker’s stories and aesthetic – her award-winning short films and “Seagrass” – everything was shot on film – caused a stir. For “Seagrass,” she worked with innovative BC boutique companies Experimental Forest Films and Ceroma Films and hired Ally Maki (“Shortcomings”) to play a woman who brings her interracial family to a couples therapy retreat. Writing about her second feature, Hama-Brown says, “It also deals with Japanese-American/Canadian identity and ancestry, but has a genre side in that it contains science fiction elements.”

Ariane Louis Seize


“Humanist Vampire Seeks Consenting Suicidal Person”, directed, written

Ariane Louis-Seize premiered four of her award-winning short films in Toronto, but this year she returns to “live in the moment” and build on the momentum of her successful debut film, Venice Days – a coming-of-age horror comedy requires none Logline. Produced by all-female and non-binary Montreal production company Art et Essai, “Humanist Vampire” stars Sara Montpetit (“Marie Chapdelaine”) in the lead role. Its roots lie in Louise-Seize’s youthful fascination with “films that were edgy and played with supernatural elements, and that gave outcasts their own coming-of-age stories.” Among several projects in development there are a feature related to the phenomenon in Japan jouhatsu: “The idea that people choose to disappear overnight and thereby erase their former identities fascinates me deeply.”

MH Murray


“I Don’t Know Who You Are” Director, Screenplay, Producer

Directing, writing and producing three seasons of an award-winning viral web series (“Teenagers”) while studying film gave MH Murray the skills to forge his first feature film, funded with small Arts Council grants: “Producing on a “One.” Minimal collaboration with collaborators I had already worked with proved to be the best way forward.” 2023 TIFF Rising star Mark Clennon plays gay working-class musician Benjamin (a character he portrayed in Murray’s 2020 short film “Ghost.” who is sexually assaulted by a stranger and spends a tense weekend raising money for HIV prevention drugs. Murray is shooting his second feature film in October – a queer body horror film starring Chloe van Landschoot (“From”). “It’s an homage to the horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, and it will be very gory and very gay.”

Kudakwashe Rutendo

2023 Rising Star, “Backspot” actor


Kudakwashe Rutendo learned from her “Backspot” cast members that she would be joining TIFF’s 2023 Rising Stars program. “I’m looking forward to the insider access the program offers,” said Rutendo, whose background in poetry and theater was preparation for her big-screen breakthrough. Canadian director DW Waterson’s feature film “Backspot” follows the intense moves and twists in the plot after a competitive cheerleader (Devery Jacobs from “Reservation Dogs”) and her friend – played by former high school cheerleader Rutendo – both make it to the elite -Create your school’s cheerleading squad. Rutendo (a “huge anime and animation fan”) plans to screen Miyazaki’s final film “The Boy and The Heron,” which opens the festival.

Eva Thomas

Director of “Redlights” (short film).

Walpole Island First Nation, Toronto

The world premiere of Eva Thomas’ “Redlights” in Short Cuts finds the director at a rare, potentially pivotal moment when celebration and opportunity merge. “Redlights” is a short film project about two women who are in trouble with the law and are on the run. The short circuit is the “problem,” says Thomas. “The original spark was ‘Thelma & Louise’ – two women who can’t go to the police and ask for help. I thought, what if they were two indigenous women who really couldn’t go to the police?” Thomas is also participating in the TIFF Every Story Accelerator as an executive producer of “Seeds,” the feature film directorial debut of actor Kaniehtiio Horn, which is in the post, and at the TIFF Filmmakers Lab for the feature film component of “Redlights.” Canada’s Indigenous filmmakers are riding the wave to screens

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