The 13th annual imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival festival opened yesterday in Toronto, and the first screenings showcased the work of a filmmaker who’s been documenting Native stories for over 40 years.
Alanis Obomsawin, Abenaki, has made a career of chronicling the Aboriginal people of Canada in film, and the warm welcome she received upon taking the stage last night reflected the vast respect she has earned from the Native film community. “You make me feel like I’m coming home,” she told the audience, according to a report at CBC.ca.
First up was her first film, the 14-minute short “Christmas at Moose Factory,” first seen in 1971, about Native children at the Horden Hall residential school. The feature presentation that followed, The People of Kattawapiskak River, is Obomsawin’s latest, and documents the living conditions of the Attawapiskat First Nation in the north Ontario.
On October 8, 2011, the Nation’s chief, Theresa Spence, made global news reports when she declared a state of emergency. Many tribal members were living in tents or other inadequate housing, and with the onset of winter temperatures their lives were at risk.
Attawapiskat quickly became a political football, the topic of the week for talking heads and editorializers. But little was being done. This is the scene as Obomsawin sets it in her documentary. “By presenting politicians’ hollow cries for more housing, Obomsawin quickly establishes the disconnect between Ottawa and the very real crisis on the reserve,” reads a review at Torontoist. Obomsawin meets with the people, and “her intimate interviews never reek of poverty porn or voyeurism. Instead, they give platforms to people who belong to demographics that are often talked about, but rarely listened to. … Though the subject is dour, Obomsawin doesn’t sentimentalize it. Instead, she captures a pragmatic truth: to dream of the future, one needs to be able to take root in the present.”
Obamsawin’s strength as a filmmaker is capturing genuine stories from the unheard — in a June interview for Wawatay News Online, she spoke of “the art of listening.” “To this day, I never start with filming people,” she said. “When I go and see them, I bring a tape recorder and just listen for hours. … I never get tired of listening to people.”