Cast of The Road Forward | Image Source: NFB
The Road Forward, by award winning director and producer Marie Clements, made its world debut this past Sunday at Hot Docs Film Festival. The film documents the birth of modern Indigenous activism from the 1930’s onwards, weaving a collection of original music that recount the pressing issues of the time in interviews with the founders of the Native Brotherhood and Native Sisterhood. These leaders founded one of the first Indigenous publications in Canada, The Native Voice, which the film is centred around. The Native Voice played a pivotal role in initiating some of the first social, political and legal activist movements led by Indigenous people in the past 80 years. The Road Forward is a must see if you want to learn more about the shared Indigenous/Canadian history of Canada. After all, Indigenous history is Canadian history. Marie Clements spoke with MUSKRAT Magazine’s, Erica Commanda about The Road Forward and what inspires her creatively.
MM: Some of the root issues the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood spoke about during their interviews still speak true today, like when they talk about racism and the ways the government is our main enemy. How do you think Indigenous activism has evolved over the years?
MC: [The Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood] were able to bring many people together across a huge nation when there was no Internet and no social media. When we look at the movements in our time like Idle No More and Standing Rock, so much of their success was attributed to the ability to create awareness through social media and to let people know what really was going on and to ignite them to want to be involved in it. That’s what The Native Voice did and that’s what the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood did. That’s what all these community leaders have always done. The fact that they did that without these tools that we now have is pretty amazing.
MM: What do you find most inspiring about Indigenous activism ?
MC: The activists who came together because they wanted better conditions on all levels for Aboriginal Peoples in this country, not only to fight in a political way, but in a social way. They decided to form a newspaper, became writers and created their own way of communicating with each other so that we could gather strength to confront the real things that we were up against. I think that there is also such a critical mass coming together at this time with our artists in our country whether they are writers, painters or musicians. That kind of activism has always appealed to me because it’s expressed in a way that not just Native people can understand, but also other non-Native people can be engaged in. It helps gather support and understanding in a way that politics can’t offer.
MM: While researching and preparing to film The Road Forward, which moments in Indigenous activism did you find most compelling?
MC: To be honest I feel like I could have really done ten more movies because that history is so rich and so profound that I could have just kept going. The pieces that you see in the film are the pieces that hit me the most. I really wanted to able to move through history in a way that had an energy, to give us the very real feeling that we are moving forward. From these earlier movements to Idle No More or Standing Rock, Native activism has been a long tradition. It’s part of what being Native is in this country.
MM: You do a lot of work in theatre and film. Where do you get your inspiration from creatively?
MC: I think stories find you and demand to be told. I think that there is kind of a synchronicity happening because usually you might have an idea, or something will move you, or you may be affected by something. I think a story comes to you because you cannot, NOT say anything. That’s the case really, it’s just being inspired by stories that haven’t been told or that I can’t let go of until I tell it.
MM: What do you hope people will take away after watching The Road Forward?
MC: I’m hoping they might learn something about our shared history in this country that maybe they didn’t know. I’m hoping that they will come away inspired by a lot of these activists and artists that I’m inspired by. I feel that change is coming and that we’re in this together.
Marie Clements (Métis/Dene) is an award-winning writer, director and producer of film, television, radio, new media and live performance. Her work as a filmmaker includes the award-winning 2015 docudrama Number 14 and the 2013 short drama Pilgrims, which screened at TIFF and Telefilm Canada’s Not Short on Talent program at the Cannes Market. Her short documentary The Language of Love was an official selection at Hot Docs in 2012. The film production of Clements’ screenplay Unnatural and Accidental premiered at the MoMA Film Festival in New York and also screened at TIFF. Her theatre productions as writer/director include Tombs of the Vanishing Indian, The Unnatural and Accidental Women, and The Edward Curtis Project. Her plays Burning Vision and Copper Thunderbird were shortlisted for Governor General’s Literary Awards. Clements is an alumnus of Women in the Director’s Chair, the President of MCM, and the Artistic Director of red diva projects.