13 works selected, including two world premieres and Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film
Indigenous creation in documentary, animation and digital media: NFB lineup at imagineNATIVE features powerful issues and innovative storytelling
On the heels of its new three-year plan to redefine its relationship with Indigenous peoples, the National Film Board of Canada will be at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival (October 18-22) with a stellar selection of 13 film and digital works by Indigenous creators, including both opening and closing night films.
The world premiere of Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s short documentary Holy Angels will be featured as part of the festival’s Opening Night Gala, with Marie Clements’ The Road Forwardshowcased on Closing Night. Legendary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin will be on hand with Our People Will Be Healed, her 50th film in her 50th year of a distinguished career, along withTasha Hubbard’s feature doc Birth of a Family.
There’s a strong slate of Indigenous animation, including the world premiere of Echo Henoche’s Shaman, the Ontario premieres of Christopher Auchter’s The Mountain of SGaana and Asinnajaq’s Three Thousand, as well as a screening of Diane Obomsawin’s multi-award-winning I Like Girls.
Indigenous leadership in digital, interactive and VR creation will be explored through Katherena Vermette and Alicia Smith’s Instagram project What Brings Us Here; the interactive essaysXinona by Walter Kaheró:ton Scott, The Cache by Michelline Ammaaq and Bonnie Ammaaq, and Natasha Kanapé Fontaine’s Tetepiskat; as well as a prototype of the upcoming virtual reality work West Wind (Tegs’g) by director Jeff Barnaby.
Opening Night Gala
Jay Cardinal Villeneuve’s short documentary Holy Angels powerfully recaptures Canada’s colonialist history through impressionistic images and the fragmented language of a child. In 1963, Lena Wandering Spirit was one of the more than 150,000 Indigenous children who were removed from their families and sent to residential school. Five-year-old performer Phoenix Sawan brings Wandering Spirit’s recollections to vivid life, weaving the narrative together through dance. Villeneuve met Lena through his work as a videographer with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—the result is a powerful work that speaks of the resilience of a people who are finding ways of healing and of coming home. The 14-minute Holy Angels is produced by Selwyn Jacob, with Shirley Vercruysse as executive producer for the NFB’s Pacific and Yukon Studio.
Closing Night Gala
Writer/director Marie Clements’ The Road Forward is an electrifying musical documentary that connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history—the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s—with First Nations activism today. Interviews and musical sequences describe how a tiny movement, the Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, grew to become a successful voice for change across the country, as this feature documentary seamlessly links past and present through superb story-songs, blues, rock and traditional beats. The Road Forward is produced and executive produced by Shirley Vercruysse for the NFB’s BC & Yukon Studio in Vancouver.
More great documentary films
Returning to imagineNATIVE is legendary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin with Our People Will Be Healed, taking audiences inside the Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre, an innovative N-12 school in the Cree community of Norway House whose educators and programs are helping First Nations children to learn, thrive, and grow up strong and proud. The school’s name honours a young woman from Norway House whose notorious 1971 murder was left ignored and unsolved for 16 long years, with the film providing a sobering look at the painful history endured by Cree people in northern Manitoba. But in her 50th film, Obomsawin offers a tremendously hopeful vision for First Nations peoples, showing us how improved education can save lives and change the future for Indigenous youth.
Our People Will Be Healed is the latest in a cycle of films by Obomsawin that explore how youth are leading the way for First Nations peoples. The series began with her 2012 Donald Brittain Award-winning The People of the Kattawapiskak River and continued with Hi-Ho Mistahey! (2013), Trick or Treaty? (2014) and We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (2016). It will also continue with Obomsawin’s 51st film, Jordan’s Principle (working title), now underway.
Directed by Tasha Hubbard and written by Tasha Hubbard and Saskatoon StarPhoenix journalist Betty Ann Adam, Birth of a Family follows three sisters and a brother, adopted as infants into separate families across North America as part of Canada’s infamous Sixties Scoop, as they meet together for the first time. Among the 20,000 Indigenous children removed from their families and placed into foster care or adopted into white homes, these four siblings are now all in middle age, with no shared memories—but together, they take the first steps in building their family.Birth of a Family is produced by Bonnie Thompson and executive produced by David Christensen for the NFB’s North West Studio in Edmonton.
Amazing auteur animation
imagineNATIVE is hosting the world premiere of Shaman, the first animated work by Echo Henoche, who grew up in Nain, Nunatsiavut, and is the granddaughter of accomplished stone sculptor Gilbert Hays. Echo sold her first piece of art when she was eight years old and hasn’t stopped drawing since. In her five-minute debut film, she brings to life the legend of how a polar bear was transformed into the iconic mountain in her home community. Shaman is produced by Kat Baulu for the Quebec and Atlantic Studio.
In Three Thousand, Inuit artist Asinnajaq, also known as Isabella-Rose Weetaluktuk, plunges us into a sublime imaginary universe: 12 minutes of luminescent, archive-inspired cinema that recast the past, present and future of Inuit in a radiant new light. Embedding historic footage into original animation, she dives into the NFB’s vast archive to parse the complicated cinematic representation of Inuit, conjuring up a vision of hope and beautiful possibility. Three Thousand is produced by Kat Baulu for the Quebec and Atlantic Studio.
Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter’s The Mountain of SGaana spins a magical tale of a young man who is stolen away to the spirit world, and the young woman who rescues him. Inspired by a traditional Haida legend and co-written with Annie Reid, this 10-minute dream-like film brilliantly entwines traditional animation with formal elements of Haida art, brought to life by a rich palette and stylized effects. The Mountain of SGaana is produced by Shirley Vercruysse and executive produced by Shirley Vercruysse (Pacific and Yukon Studio) and Michael Fukushima (Animation Studio) for the NFB.
A Montreal cartoonist and animator of Abenaki descent, Diane Obomsawin, a.k.a. Obom, adapts her latest graphic novel for the screen, using endearing anthropomorphic figures to tell real-life stories of first love in I Like Girls. Winner of five awards to date, including the Nelvana Grand Prize for Independent Short Animation at the Ottawa International Animation Festival, this eight-minute film was produced by Marc Bertrand, with Julie Roy as executive producer for the NFB’s French Animation Studio.
Groundbreaking digital works
The festival’s Digital Media Showcase will feature four works by NFB Indigenous creators:
What Brings Us Here, created by Métis author and filmmaker Katherena Vermette and NFB producer Alicia Smith, is a digital companion to the multi-award-winning short documentary film this river, co-directed by Vermette and Erika MacPherson. An experiment in social medial storytelling, What Brings Us Here combines photographs and statements by the dedicated volunteers of Drag the Red and the Bear Clan Patrol—grassroots MMIWG and MMIP movements in Winnipeg—to answer the central question: “What brings you here to do this work?” Documented by Winnipeg photographers Karen Asher, Mark Reimer and Janine Kropla, What Brings Us Here is executive-produced by David Christensen.
Three interactive essays will also be showcased from Legacies150, an NFB online series offering first-person perspectives on the themes of legacy and inheritance, with Nicholas Klassen of the NFB’s Digital Studio in Vancouver as series producer:
- Xinona is an alternative-universe tale that puts post-colonial oppression in its place, written and illustrated by Mohawk comic book artist Walter Kaheró:ton Scott and produced by Jelena Popović at the English-language Animation Studio.
- Living north of the Arctic Circle, there’s only one place they call home—out on the land, far from the government-sponsored outpost. The Cache is based on the personal stories of Inuit artists Michelline Ammaaq and Bonnie Ammaaq, with photographs by Jonathan Frantz, and produced by Alicia Smith at the North West Studio.
- From her family’s ancestral hunting camp in Quebec’s Manicouagan region, Innu poet Natasha Kanapé Fontaine sends a message across time and generations in Tetepiskat, written by Natasha Kanapé Fontaine, with photos by Maryse Goudreau. Produced by Denis McCready at the French-language Documentary Studio.
A four-minute prototype of the upcoming NFB/Prospector Films-co-produced virtual reality work West Wind (Tegs’g, in Mi’gmaq) by director Jeff Barnaby will also be on display at imagineNATIVE in 2167, a program of Indigenous-directed VR experiences all set in the year 2167, 150 years from the present day. 2167 is presented by imagineNATIVE in partnership with the Toronto International Film Festival, Pinnguaq and the Initiative for Indigenous Futures.
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer of creative documentaries, auteur animation, interactive stories, and immersive experiences. Since 1968, the NFB has produced more than 280 works by First Nations, Métis and Inuit filmmakers—an unparalleled collection that pushes past dominant narratives and provides Indigenous perspectives to Canadian and global audiences. Guided by the recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the NFB has announced a three-year plan that will redefine its relationship with Indigenous peoples, with actions that include devoting a minimum of 15 percent of overall production spending to Indigenous-led productions and making its Indigenous collection more accessible via a new destination on NFB.ca and its apps for mobile devices.
The complete text of the Indigenous Action Plan and an overview of Indigenous filmmaking at the NFB are available here.