Indian Country Today
Greetings Indian Country Today film review readers. The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival has come to an end, and I’ve decided to focus on the Indigenous offerings available this year.
I was not able to view them all, but those that I did see (they were wonderful) I will add a few words of review. But I do want to list all of them so the readers can keep an eye out when they come to theaters, video-on-demand or festivals near you.
(Note: I found these films with an inquiry to TIFF. If Indigenous filmmakers or viewers know of other films, please feel free to let me know and I will add the films.) I also did the best I could in compiling websites, TIFF page info and IMDb account pages so readers can inquire about upcoming possible film screenings. Some of the films also have contacts pages to come and screen the film in your local communities.
Here is the list of Indigenous films that appeared at this year’s TIFF:
Films I was able to view:
(TIFF Discovery, TIFF Next Wave)
TIFF description: Link and his brother flee their abusive father and embark on a journey where Link discovers his sexuality and rediscovers his Mi’kmaw heritage. Two-spirit Mi’kmaw teenager Link (Phillip Lewitski) is just discovering — and asserting — his sexuality when his already volatile home life goes off the rails. His abusive father Arvin explodes after the cops bust Link and his half-brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) for stealing scrap metal. When he finds out that his supposedly dead mother Sarah may be alive, Link sets fire to Arvin’s truck and flees with Travis. Sparks fly in a chance encounter with teen drifter Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), who shares Link’s Indigenous roots and offers to help find Sarah — but will Link’s (well-founded) mistrust of people ruin his potential new relationship and the group’s mission?
My #NativeNerd comments: A sincerely beautiful film that explores a range of topics based on lost identity and self-exploration that I have never seen before. As a grandson displaced from his community because my own Tota feared the government and fled to California, the beautifully addressed themes in this film continue to resonate as well as haunt me in a thoughtful way. An absolute gem of a film I highly recommend.
Beautiful performances by actors Michael Greyeyes as Smokey, Phillip Lewitski as Link, Joel Thomas Hynes as Arvin, Savonna Spracklin as Sarah and Joshua Odjick as Pasmay. I think of a term my theater history teacher in college described to me when speaking of plays by Anton Checkov that fits appropriately in describing this film, it is the pinnacle of “symphonic realism.”
Wildhood is my top pick at TIFF 2021.
Wildhood film information/screenings:
Angakusajaujuq - The Shaman's Apprentice
(TIFF’s Short Cuts)
Director: Zacharias Kunuk
TIFF description: Zacharias Kunuk boldly brings his unparalleled storytelling skills and cinematic prowess into a new medium with his first animated work, an astonishingly intricate and mesmerizing stop-motion marvel about a young shaman facing her most daunting test.
My #NativeNerd comments: This short film combines three of my absolute favorite concepts, animation, short films and Indigenous themes. This short film is dreamlike as well as brilliant in its story. I was mesmerized as well as completely swept up into the film. Absolutely fantastic in its delivery.
Angakusajaujuq - The Shaman's Apprentice film information for screenings:
TIFF page - https://www.tiff.net/events/short-cuts-2021-programme-01
IMDb page - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13833710/
Official Website - https://shamansapprentice.com/
TIFF description: This stirring debut feature by Manitoban filmmaker and artist Rhayne Vermette is a formally alluring examination of home by way of places and people. Set and shot in Treaty 1 territory, which today includes Winnipeg and the nearby town that lends the film its title, this stirring debut feature by Manitoban filmmaker and artist Rhayne Vermette is a deeply mysterious and alluring examination of home by way of places and people.
My #NativeNerd comments: Ste. Anne was haunting (in a good way) in its raw portrayal and exploration of matriarchal themes. It’s almost as if the viewer was invited to listen to important conversations outside of their own circle. Very interesting and different to see a film shot with actual film. I believe each viewer will take away their own interpretation of this project, and therein lies its poetic beauty. Without question, this is filmmaker Rhayne Vermette's film, as it has its own unique signature. As someone that has watched many different films, I haven't seen anything like it. It is unique and original, and that is something I appreciate.
(TIFF’s Short Cuts)
TIFF description: Mi’kmaw filmmaker and actor Tim Myles pays a deeply moving yet often humorous tribute to his mother and his heritage, in this semi-autobiographical story of a young man fleeing his late mother’s wake as he attempts to come to terms with his new reality.
My #NativeNerd comments: Little Bird was an endearing and thoughtful film based on a young Native man who loses his mother. I enjoyed the simple and heartfelt message as well as enjoyed the journey Tim Myles invited me to embark on.
Little Bird film information for screenings:
TIFF page - https://www.tiff.net/events/short-cuts-2021-programme-03
Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics
(TIFF’s Short Cuts)
TIFF description: Filmmaker, artist, and animator Terril Calder returns to Short Cuts with what may be her most powerful and intricately designed work to date: a stop-motion animation that charts a challenging journey for Baby Girl, a precocious Métis girl contemplating her path to Hell.
My #NativeNerd comments: This short animated film completely blew my mind as well as gave me incredible pause for thought. I hadn’t really conceived of the blaring mixed messages given to me throughout my life as a Native man, but this short animated film by Terri Calder was a brilliant, thoughtful and insightful take on the flood of contradictory thoughts shoved down the throats of Indigenous people by colonizers throughout history.
Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics film information for screenings:
TIFF page - https://www.tiff.net/events/short-cuts-2021-programme-02
IMDb page - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15398466/
Films I was not able to view as of yet:
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner
(TIFF Cinematheque In-person viewing only)Zacharias Kunuk
TIFF description: Twenty years ago, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was slated to have its North American premiere at TIFF when the screening had to be postponed on September 11. This year, TIFF screens this landmark film in a new 2K version. The first feature film written and directed by Inuit filmmakers and performed entirely in the Inuktitut language, Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is a landmark in Canadian cinema. Based on a classic Inuit folk tale, the film is a spellbinding epic of love, revenge, betrayal, and murder in the northeastern Arctic prior to European contact. While its themes are universal, Atanarjuat is rooted in the Inuit world: the script adapted from recordings of eight Elders, showcasing Inuit actors and artists. The film became a beacon for a new worldwide wave of Indigenous filmmakers telling their own culture’s stories in their own way.
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner film information for screenings:
TIFF page - https://www.tiff.net/events/atanarjuat-the-fast-runner
IMDb page - https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0285441
Website - http://www.isuma.tv/atanarjuat
TIFF description: Danis Goulet’s singular thriller draws on Canada’s ugly colonial legacy for a propulsive piece of genre cinema set in a dystopian postwar future. This film contains scenes that may distress some viewers, especially those who have experienced harm, abuse, violence, and/or intergenerational trauma due to colonial practices.
(Discovery, TIFF Next Wave)
Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson
TIFF description: Three kids in a low-income neighborhood find friendship and community in an unlikely place, in this adaptation of Catherine Hernandez’s award-winning book. Adapted from the critically acclaimed novel by Catherine Hernandez, Scarborough is an unflinching portrait of three low-income families struggling to endure within a system that’s set them up for failure. It shows the love and perseverance communities can foster, lifting up families to overcome the obstacles placed in their way.
Scarborough film information for screenings:
TIFF page - https://www.tiff.net/events/scarborough
Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace
TIFF description: The many environmental, social, legal and human perils of BC’s controversial Site C hydro dam project are explored in Heather Hatch’s must-watch doc. Pipelines tend to get all the ink in terms of environmental risks, but there are many other potential disasters in the offing. Take, for example, the Site C Dam, a gargantuan hydroelectric project on northern British Columbia’s Peace River. The 13th longest river system on the planet, the Peace River cuts across the province in an area largely populated by Indigenous peoples — including West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, two of the smallest bands covered under Treaty 8, the government’s century-old agreement with Indigenous people intended to last “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”