And so it begins!!
Hey everyone!! I’m new to this blog, and new to Toronto, and new to the imagineNATIVE film festival, and could not be more excited to be helping out! For the past month or so, I’ve been helping Sage out as an intern with various social media tasks, but during the festival I shall be sharing my thoughts and experiences as an imagineNATIVE first-timer…starting with the opening night festivities!
First on my agenda was heading to the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema for the world premiere of Alanis Obomsawin’s The People of the Kattawapiskak River.
I thought I’d get there super early to beat the crowds, but I definitely underestimated the enthusiasm of everyone else!! When I got there at 6, there was already a line around the block! Luckily I managed to snag a ticket and a seat in the balcony, though I did have a minor heart attack when I passed Obomsawin herself in the lobby, calmly chatting and posing for pictures. I’ve been a fan of her’s ever since I saw her incredible groundbreaking film Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, and I have to say seeing her in the flesh was more than slightly surreal!
As it turns out, it was lucky I got a seat at all, as the theatre was completely packed—so full, in fact, that there were people standing in the balcony for the duration of the screening. The crowd itself was infused with so much joy and excitement that the room seemed to vibrate with it.
Shamefully, this was my first experience at a cultural film festival like this (as a film student, I should know better!), and there was something so thrilling about a huge collective of like-minded people gathered together to celebrate their culture and heritage and who they are in this way. There was a palpable sense of pride, the crowd genuinely applauding and laughing and showing their appreciation and thanks to each person that spoke before the film began, and in one case, cheering uproariously for Executive Director Jason Ryle when he joked that his thick head of hair was attributed to his good aboriginal genes…
When Obomsawin came on stage to introduce her film, she was greeted with a well-deserved standing ovation from the entire house. She said, in her typically elegant way: “You make me feel like coming home.” Everyone went wild!
Before the main presentation there was a screening of Obomsawin’s short film Christmas at Moose Factory. It was charming and completely heartwarming, showcasing indigenous life through the lens of a child. Through the narration and hand drawn images of children within the aboriginal community, Obomsawin revealed to the audience a magical world of black bears and snow fights, family and friends, music and dance, Christmas day and presents for everyone. The film itself was a small piece of joy and made me smile the entire time.
The second film was decidedly different in tone. The People of the Kattawapiskak River is a documentary feature about the housing crisis in the Attiwapiskat First Nation. With her careful words and soothing narration, Obomsawin calmly unfolds the story for us from beginning to end, revealing a community struggling and fighting to survive. The story of the Attiwapiskat First Nation was national news, and should be well known throughout Canada, but Obomsawin steps inside the community itself, inside their homes and their lives, sits with them and their children and allows them to tell their side of the story. I think what I liked most about it, was how unrelenting Obomsawin was as a director, unwilling to let the story end, adding footage after the credits of recent legal proceedings surrounding the issue, and the changes in the community months later.
As a small town film student, I can never get over the access people in Toronto have to big filmmakers, and imagineNATIVE is no exception! After the screening there was a Q & A, and Obomsawin discussed her film, amd invited many of the people featured in the film to come on stage.
One of these was Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins and James Bay, who summed up my feelings on the film nicely, saying: “This film shows that justice is possible.” Though the film is difficult at times to watch because the subject matter can be heartbreaking, or frustrating, or infuriating, in the end I just felt that everything, the entire night, the film, the response was so moving—it’s something I’m so glad to have experienced. Very honestly, every Canadian needs see this movie!
Well, that’s it from me for now—I’ll be posting blogs throughout the festival, so you’ll be hearing from me again soon! In the meantime, I’ll be moving on from the Bloor Cinema to the TIFF Bell Lightbox, waiting for the next movie to start…