May 28, 2023

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Let us know what your favourites are!

With the 15th Anniversary of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival just around the corner, MUSKRAT is celebrating Indigenous cinema this week! We invited Indigenous film critic and programmer Jesse Wente to share his list of top 10 Indigenous made films of all time.

1. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Canada)
The first Inuktitut language feature is also the most important film in Canadian history, bringing epic film making to a Northern legend. It won Official Selection at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival, and remains the highest grossing Indigenous film in Canadian history.


2. Bastion Point Day 507/Incident at Restigouche  (New Zealand/Canada)
These two activist documentaries were often paired on the festival circuit and are among the most important films in contemporary Indigenous cinema.  Directors Merata Mita and Alanis Obomsawin seemingly willed Indigenous cinema into life with these two endlessly fascinating historical documents. Checkout MUSKRAT’s exclusive interview with Alanis Obomsawin here!

3. Bedevil  (Australia)
Tracey Moffat’s dreamscape/ghost story began Indigenous cinema’s move away from traditional cinematic narrative structures and remains an under seen masterpiece.


4. The Dead Lands  (New Zealand)
Toa Fraser’s martial arts epic is bloody and bold, recreating pre-contact New Zealand and featuring remarkable, bone crunching performances. Coming soon to a cinema near you!

5. Four Sheets to the Wind  (U.S)
Sterlin Harjo’s gripping feature is a descendant of Smoke Signals, portraying contemporary Indigenous life with an unflinching eye and open heart. It won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance for Tamara Podemski’s remarkable performance.


6. Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance  (Canada)
Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary epic chronicles the Oka Crisis in Quebec and helped shift the dialogue around Indigenous issues in Canada and globally. It was the first documentary to ever win the Best Canadian Feature award at the Toronto International Film Festival.


7. Once Were Warriors  (New Zealand)
Lee Tamahori’s ferocious and exhilarating portrait of an urban Maori family was the first Indigenous feature to have a truly global presence. Among the highest grossing films in New Zealand history.


8. Rhymes for Young Ghouls  (Canada)
Jeff Barnaby’s debut feature brings the anger to Indigenous cinema, a clarion call for both the cinematic community and the Indigenous community. A director to watch for years to come. Check out MUSKRAT’s controversial interview with Jeff Barnaby here!

9. Samson and Delilah  (Australia)
Warwick Thornton’s Camera D’or winner is a searing depiction of modern life in Australia and a marvel of naturalism and restrained storytelling.

10. Smoke Signals  (U.S)
Chris Eyre’s road movie based on Sherman Alexie’s screenplay is a touchstone for Indigenous cinema, bringing humor to a story of contemporary Indigenous life. Also features the core of young performers such as Adam Beach, Michelle St. John, Irene Bedard and Gary Farmer who would go on to star in numerous other films in the ensuing years.

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About The Author

Jesse Wente

Jesse Wente is the Director of Film Programmes at TIFF Bell Lightbox, overseeing New Releases, series and TIFF Cinematheque programming and scheduling. Prior to his appointment as Director of Film Programmes, Wente served as one of the Canadian features programmers for the Toronto International Film Festival and he has also programmed for the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Festival. He is well known as a film critic and broadcaster in Toronto and across Canada. Before joining TIFF, he was a weekly contributor to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning and covered film and pop culture for 20 other local CBC Radio programs.

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1 Comment

  1. catherine mc carty

    My favourite movies are ATANARJUAT- the fast runner and KANEHSATAKE -270 yrs. of Resistence.
    The Fast Runner did not have a lot of dialogue, but the scenes and the silence told a great story and you got every thing that was happening. I love the running scene and his escape and finding his love again. The movie was totally native with the actors, the writer, the producer, the director, the country, the language, pure indigenous. Nothing like it, a real Native Canadian gem!!

    Kanehsatake I love it for how well it explained the history of Oka and the Quebec crisis, because the majority of non-native Canadians could not understand who, what, where, when, and how could this all happen in Canada. THIS MOVIE answered ever question with great clarity and explanation. It should be shown in the history classes today in high schools and universities. Non-natives still do not understand what our treaties meant back then, and still mean today.


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