Though star-studded, the annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival was a bit of a nail-biter this year for its organizers, as they tested a new venue as the hub.
Traditionally the festival has been held at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, but this year, the main venue was the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Lightbox, a five-screen cinema complex that also features galleries, workshops and a library.
Marcia Nickerson, the imagineNATIVE board chair, admitted she had reservations about changing the festival’s main screening location.
“We had some trepidation about what changing venues would mean to our community, and how, in light of such a large venue, we would maintain the sense of community that we feel is so integral to who we are as a festival,” said Nickerson.
But she needn’t have worried: With a 15 percent increase in box office sales over previous years, imagineNATIVE logged its best year ever.
“Thankfully, the response was overwhelmingly supportive, and we also managed to increase festival and screening attendance,” Nickerson said. “And as for our filmmakers, well they now have access to the best in projection and viewing facilities to show their works.”
The festival ran from October 19–23. The internationally recognized showcase of aboriginal works exhibited the latest in film, video, radio and new media created by First Nations, Inuit and Métis artists, as well as others from around the world. More than 110 works were presented over the five days, representing 66 indigenous nations from 11 geographic countries.
Applicants had to be self-identified as indigenous, aboriginal or First Peoples and be the writer, director or producer of the submitted project. Works that hadn’t yet been aired were given priority.
ImagineNATIVE opened with On The Ice, written and directed by Andrew Okpeaha MacLean (Iñupiaq), which had also played at the Sundance Film Festival. It closed with the world premiere of Wapos Bay: Long Goodbyes, based on the Gemini Award–winning animation series that runs on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).
Other imagineNATIVE highlights included the festival’s first solo exhibition, “Vital to the General Public Welfare,” an interactive digital presentation with touch-screen monitors and large-scale prints by Montreal-based digital media artist Jason Edward Lewis. In a live discussion, “In conversation with Buffy Sainte-Marie,” the famed singer and co-host Wab Kinew of the CBC (who himself once rapped the stats in a health report) led attendees through Sainte-Marie’s career as an activist, musical performer and educator.
There were also several industry panels on topics such as project funding and rights. As part of the festival, four documentary and four drama pitch contestants were selected to attend a free, six-hour intensive “How to Pitch” workshop with a broadcast-industry professional. After the workshop the contestants pitched their drama and documentary projects to a panel of commissioning editors and acquisitions executives from the country’s major networks.
Angie Pepper O’bomsawin was awarded Best Documentary Pitch for The Wrong Kind of Indian, receiving a cash prize and in-kind services from CBC News, and Technicolor and Jeff Barnhart scored a development deal with APTN for their Best Drama TV Pitch for The Flying Man.
“I’m happy beyond words with this year’s imagineNATIVE,” said festival executive director Jason Ryle. “It was our largest festival ever, and I’m so touched by the level of community support. Feedback for our programming and new venue has been immensely positive, and I thank everyone for coming out and making this the most successful imagineNATIVE to date.”
Awards were presented at the Mod Club Theater in a ceremony hosted by Billy Merasty, one of Canada’s most recognizable and versatile indigenous stars.
Festival Award Winners:
- Best Dramatic Feature: Here I Am, directed by Beck Cole
- Best Canadian Short Drama: Amaqqut Nunaat (The Country of Wolves) directed by Neil Christopher, produced by Louise Flaherty
- Honorable Mention: Eagle vs. Sparrow, directed by Michelle Derosier
- Best Short Drama: Salar, directed by Nicholas Greene
- Best Short Documentary: Spirit of the Bluebird, directed by Jesse Gouchey, co-director Xstine Cook
- Alanis Obomsawin Best Documentary Award: The Tall Man, directed by Tony Krawitz
- Best Experimental Film: The Gift, directed by Terril Calder
- Best Radio Documentary: Bring Your Drum, produced and hosted by Janet Rogers
- Best New Media: God’s Lake Narrows, co-created and written by Kevin Lee Burton
- Cynthia-Lickers Sage Award for Emerging Talent: Amaqqut Nunaat (The Country of Wolves), directed by Neil Christopher, produced by Louise Flaherty
- Best Indigenous Language Production Award: Samson & Delilah, directed by Warwick Thornton
- Best Music Video: I Lost My Shadow, directed by Nanobah Becker
- Shaw Media Mentorship Program: Zoe Leigh Hopkins
- Drama Pitch Prize: Jeff Barnhart for his pitch The Flying Man
- Documentary Pitch Prize: Angie Pepper O’bomsawin for her pitch The Wrong Kind of Indian
- Ellen Monaghue Award for best youth work: The Dimming, directed by Ippiksaut Friesen