Indigenous stories on film have often been told by non-Indigenous filmmakers, sometimes even with non-Indigenous actors portraying Indigenous characters. This has resulted in a stifling of Indigenous voice and has contributed to stereotypical misrepresentations of Indigenous people in film and television.
For Indigenous History Month, and National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21, we wanted to highlight some of the incredible Indigenous-made films currently screening or recently made across the country. For more information on Indigenous films, REEL CANADA has put together an Indigenous Film Programme catalogue with a selection of Indigenous-made films by filmmakers from diverse Nations across Canada including: Abenaki, Anishinaabe, Cree, Dene, Gwich’in, Inuit, Métis, Mi’kmaq, Heiltsuk, and Mohawk.
Kayak to Klemtu
A recent winner of two Leolo Awards for Best Supporting Actress, and Best Lead Performance, Kayak to Klemtu is Heiltsuk/Mohawk director Zoe Leigh Hopkin’s first feature film.
Currently screening in theatres across the country, Kayak to Klemtu is a timely film that examines the ongoing conversation around oil pipelines and tankers in British Columbia. It follows Ella, a 14-year-old girl who embarks on a kayak journey to take her late uncle’s ashes home to Klemtu and stand in his stead at a community hearing there. It’s a race against the clock as Ella tries to make it back in time to give a speech protesting a proposed pipeline that would cross Indigenous land.
Ella is joined by her aunt, cousin, and grumpy uncle, as the four paddle through the Inside Passage and past the shores of the Great Bear Rainforest. Set against incredible scenery, and an unobtrusive soundtrack, Kayak to Klemtu is an adventure of a lifetime, as each family member learns about themselves and their connection with the land around them.
“Families grow apart. Ships drift. Blood is thicker than water – and so is oil. Cleanups are hard; prevention is easier – so goes Kayak to Klemtu, Hopkins’s worthwhile testimony.” — Brad Wheeler, The Globe and Mail.
The Sun at Midnight
Winner of multiple awards, including Best Actress at the American Indian Movie Awards, Best Narrative Feature at the Bentonville Film Festival, and Best Picture at the Reel 2 Reel International Film Festival for Youth, The Sun at Midnight is a charming coming-of-age drama by director Kirsten Carthew.
Set in the stunning landscape of the Arctic Circle, the film tells the story of an unexpected friendship between a hunter obsessed with finding a missing caribou herd, and a teenage rebel who gets lost while on the run.
After her mother dies, 16-year-old Lia is sent to spend the summer with her Gwich’in grandmother in a small community in the far north. Desperate to get back to city life, she steals a boat and heads south. As might be expected, she quickly gets lost, and is soon discovered by Alfred, a Gwich’in hunter who reluctantly helps her navigate the unfamiliar wilderness.
An inspirational work shot in and around Fort McPherson, NWT, The Sun at Midnight is a film that proves that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find yourself. Both Alfred and Lia come to this realization as they slowly begin to find themselves by spending time together in the wilderness.
Rise: Sacred Water & Red Power Standing Rock Parts 1 & 2
In this powerful new series from VICELAND, director Michelle Latimer and host Sarain Fox travel to Indigenous communities across the Americas to meet people protecting their homelands and combating colonization. These stunning and poignant episodes premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2017 and shed light on an urgent and timely issue.
The series has received laudatory press worldwide with features in such publications in the New York Times, Variety and more.
In Part 1 of the series, Latimer examines the unfolding drama of Standing Rock and explores it within the context of other key moments in Native American history. Insights into the Dakota Access Pipeline and its impact on the Indigenous populations in the area are all investigated.
In Part 2, Latimer follows the more than 5,000 Red Power warriors arriving in Standing Rock to stand in solidarity with other protestors and halt the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
In both episodes, Latimer follows the movement that initiated the fight that expanded into the great resistance of what we know as the Occupation of Standing Rock, while at the same time crucially educating audiences on the context of the lengthy colonial history leading up to it.
Watch both episodes here!
We all know about the terrible “brutality” of the arctic seal hunt — or do we? Turns out there’s more to this story. Winner of the audience choice award at the 2016 Hot Docs festival, Angry Inuk looks at Inuit families that follow a hunting practice begun centuries ago and a tradition central to the economy and food security of Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic.
“I’ve never met these anti-sealers face-to-face,” says director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril in the film. “I wanted to make this film because it bothered me when I saw animal welfare groups portray seal hunting as an evil and greedy thing.” Wryly tackling both misinformation and aggressive appeals to emotion, Inuk filmmaker Arnaquq-Baril equips herself and her community with the powers of social media to reframe a controversial topic as a cultural issue in this 2016 Audience Award-winning Hot Docs hit.
Selected by the Toronto International Film Festival as one of Canada’s Top 10 films of 2016, “Angry Inuk delivers important information about an issue we tend to think we know everything about, and delivers a powerful emotional punch.” — Susan Cole, NOW magazine
Watch this hit Canadian documentary today!
Birth of a Family
When is a family reunion not a reunion?
When your family has never met.
In the deeply moving documentary Birth of a Family, by director Tasha Hubbard, four siblings taken from their Dene mother’s care as infants and raised separately across North America, meet for the first time.
They were among the estimated 20,000 Indigenous children who were taken from their homes between 1955 and 1985 and placed in the child welfare system as part of the Sixties Scoop. This policy was part of the same trend of forced assimilation as residential schools. Now all in middle age, each sibling has grown up in different circumstances, with different family cultures, different values and no shared memories. Birth of a Family follows them through pain, trepidation and laughter as they work together to build their family. Despite the heartache of separation, their love uplifts them all as they move towards the birth of a new family.
Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival watch this moving Canadian documentary today.
The Mountain of SGaana
The Mountain of SGaana, a dream-like short film by director Christopher Auchter, brilliantly entwines traditional animation with formal elements of Haida art — brought to life by a rich, evocative palette and stylized effects.
Auchter is an animator of the Haida people who grew listening to fascinating stories told by his relatives about life on the Haida Gwaii archipelago.
With The Mountain of SGaana, Auchter conjures a wondrous, fantastical tale of a young man stolen away to the spirit world by a SGaana (the Haida word for orca), and the young woman who rescues him. Will the lovers manage to escape the SGaana’s undersea mountain, or will they forever become part of the spirit world?
“Through animation I’m able to use [fishing tales] as a metaphor to remind us to remember our history and heritage,” Auchter told Hollywood North magazine. A brilliant tale that is rich in heritage, watch this NFB-supported animation.
In the experimental short film Three Thousand, Inuk artist Asinnajaq plunges the audience into a transcendent imaginary universe using a mix of luminescent animation and archive-inspired cinema that recasts the present, past and future of her people in a radiant new light.
Asinnajaq, also known as Isabella Rose Weetaluktuk, is a visual artist, filmmaker and writer. She recently curated a program celebrating 30 years of Inuit film at the 2017 ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival and is currently part of an all-Inuit, all-female curatorial team at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Diving into the NFB’s vast archive, Asinnajaq examines the complicated cinematic representation of the Inuit, harvesting footage from newsreels, propaganda, ethnographic documentaries, and work by other Indigenous filmmakers. Embedding historic footage into original animation, she conjures up a vision of hope and beautiful possibility.
Receiving a Canadian Screen Award nomination for Best Short Documentary Film at the 6th Canadian Screen Awards, Three Thousand is one of those sublime films that will stick with you long after you watch it. Check it out today!
One way through the pain was dance.
In a brand new short film from director Theola Ross, Twilight Dancers is set in the Pimicikamak Cree Nation, where a group of young people are committed to overcoming the trauma from a recent suicide epidemic by using square dancing to help heal the wounds left by the loss of their community members.
Premiering at the 2017 imagineNATIVE festival, this CBC documentary short follows the youth of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation as they compete in the 2017 Cross Lake Trappers Festival. The closeness and support of the community is obvious from the start, with every one of the young people on the dance team having been affected by last year’s suicides. Their sheer positivity and determination that shines through tragedy is inspiring.
Certain to move you, watch this documentary for free on CBC Docs.