Deeply Beautiful Indigenous Films


Vincent Schilling
Indian country today

Greetings Indian Country Today movie review readers. The 2021 Toronto International Film Festival is over and I’ve decided to focus on the Indigenous offerings available this year.

I couldn’t see them all, but those that I saw (they were wonderful) I will add a few words of criticism. But I want to list them all so readers can keep an eye out for cinemas, VODs, or festivals near you.

(Note: I found these films with a request to TIFF. If the filmmakers or Indigenous viewers know of any other films, please let me know and I’ll add the films.) I also did my best to compile websites, TIFF page information and IMDb account pages so that readers can learn about possible upcoming movie screenings. Some films also have contact 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:

Movies I have seen:

Savagery

(TIFF Discovery, TIFF Next Wave)
Bretten Hannam

TIFF description: Link and his brother flee their abusive father and embark on a journey where Link discovers his sexuality and rediscovers his Mi’kmaq heritage. Link (Phillip Lewitski), a two-spirited Mi’kmaq teenager, barely discovers and affirms his sexuality when his already unstable family life is derailed. His abusive father Arvin explodes after the cops arrest Link and his half-brother Travis (Avery Winters-Anthony) for stealing scrap metal. When he discovers that his supposedly dead mother, Sarah, may be alive, Link sets fire to Arvin’s truck and flees with Travis. Sparks fly during a chance encounter with teenage drifter Pasmay (Joshua Odjick), who shares Link’s Indigenous roots and offers to help him find Sarah – but will Link’s (founded) distrust of people ruin him? her potential new relationship and the group’s mission?

My #NativeNerd comments: A genuinely 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 themes beautifully addressed in this film continue to resonate and haunt me in a thoughtful way. A real gem of a film that I highly recommend.

Great performances from actors Michael Greyeyes as Smokey, Phillip Lewitski as Link, Joel Thomas Hynes as Arvin, Savonna Spracklin as Sarah and Joshua Odjick as Pasmay. I’m thinking of a term my theater history teacher in college described to me when talking about plays by Anton Checkov that fits the description of this movie well, it’s the pinnacle of “symphonic realism.”

Wildhood is my top pick at TIFF 2021.

Wildhood movie information/screenings:

TIFF page- https://www.tiff.net/events/wildhood
IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt11795652/

Angakusajaujuq – The apprentice shaman

(TIFF shortcuts)
Director: Zacharias Kunuk

TIFF description: Zacharias Kunuk boldly brings his storytelling skills and unrivaled cinematic prowess into a new medium with his first animated work, a surprisingly complex and compelling stop-motion marvel about a young shaman facing her most daunting ordeal.

My #NativeNerd comments: This short combines three of my absolute favorite concepts, animation, shorts, and indigenous themes. This short film is both dreamlike and brilliant in its story. I was mesmerized as well as completely swept up in the movie. Absolutely fantastic in its delivery.

Information on the film Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice for screenings:
TIFF page- https://www.tiff.net/events/short-cuts-2021-programme-01
IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt13833710/
Official site – https://shamansapprentice.com/

Ste. Anna

(TIFF wavelengths)
Rhayne Vermette

TIFF description: This moving feature debut from Manitoba filmmaker and artist Rhayne Vermette is a formally seductive examination of home through places and people. Set and shot in Treaty 1 territory, which today includes Winnipeg and the nearby city that gave the film its title, this moving feature debut from Manitoba filmmaker and artist Rhayne Vermette is a deeply mysterious and alluring examination of the home through places and people.

My #NativeNerd comments: Ste. Anne was haunting (in a good way) in her raw portrayal and exploration of matriarchal themes. It’s almost as if the viewer is invited to listen to important conversations outside of their own circle. Very interesting and different from seeing a film shot with real film. I believe that each viewer will take away their own interpretation of this project, and therein lies its poetic beauty. Without a doubt, this is filmmaker Rhayne Vermette’s film, as it has its own unique signature. As someone who has watched many different movies, I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s unique and quirky, and that’s something I appreciate.

Ste. Anne’s film information for screenings:
TIFF page- https://www.tiff.net/events/ste-anne
IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt14091768/

Little bird

(TIFF shortcuts)
Tim Myles

TIFF description: Mi’kmaw filmmaker and actor Tim Myles pays a deeply moving yet often humorous tribute to his mother and her legacy, 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 Aboriginal man who loses his mother. I appreciated the simple and sincere message and the journey that Tim Myles invited me to undertake.

Little Bird film information for screenings:
TIFF pagehttps://www.tiff.net/events/short-cuts-2021-programme-03

Meneath: the hidden island of ethics

(TIFF shortcuts)
Terril Calder

TIFF description: Filmmaker, artist and animator Terril Calder returns to Short Cuts with what may be her most powerful and complex work to date: stop-motion animation that charts a difficult journey for Baby Girl, a precocious mixed race woman who contemplates his way to hell.

My #NativeNerd comments: This animated short completely blew my mind and gave me incredible thought. I hadn’t quite imagined the conflicting and stark messages that have been conveyed to me throughout my life as an Indigenous person, but this animated short by Terri Calder was a brilliant, thoughtful and insightful take on the stream of thoughts contradictions pushed down the throats of Indigenous people by colonizers throughout history.

Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics movie information for screenings:
TIFF page- https://www.tiff.net/events/short-cuts-2021-programme-02
IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15398466/

Movies I haven’t seen yet:

Atanarjuat: the fast runner

(TIFF Cinematheque In-Person Viewing Only) Zacharias Kunuk

TIFF description: Twenty years ago, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner was due to have its North American premiere at TIFF when the screening had to be rescheduled to September 11. This year, TIFF presents this historic film in a new 2K version. The first feature film written and directed by Inuit filmmakers and performed entirely in the Inuktitut language, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner by Zacharias Kunuk is a landmark in Canadian cinema. Based on a classic Inuit folk tale, the film is a haunting epic of love, revenge, betrayal and murder in the northeastern Arctic before European contact. Although its themes are universal, Atanarjuat is rooted in the Inuit world: the script is adapted from the recordings of eight Elders, featuring Inuit actors and artists. The film became a beacon for a new global wave of Indigenous filmmakers telling the stories of their own culture in their own unique way.

Information on the film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner 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

night raiders

(Gala presentations)
Danis Goulet

TIFF description: Danis Goulet’s singular thriller draws inspiration from Canada’s gruesome colonial heritage for a propulsive piece of genre cinema set in a dystopian post-war future. This film contains scenes that may disturb some viewers, particularly those who have experienced harm, abuse, violence and/or intergenerational trauma from colonial practices.

Night Raiders film information for screenings:
TIFF page- https://www.tiff.net/events/night-raiders
IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt9568230

Scarborough

(Discovery, TIFF Next Wave)
Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson

TIFF description: Three kids from 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 survive in a system that is leading them to failure. It shows the love and perseverance that communities can foster, helping families overcome the obstacles placed in their path.

Scarborough film information for screenings:
TIFF page-
https://www.tiff.net/events/scarborough

Wochiigii lo: end of peace

(TIFF documents)
Heather Hatch

TIFF description: The many environmental, social, legal and human perils of the controversial Site C hydroelectric dam project in British Columbia are explored in Heather Hatch’s must-see documentary. Pipelines tend to get a lot of talk in terms of environmental hazards, but many more potential disasters are on the horizon. Take, for example, the Site C Dam, a gargantuan hydroelectric project on the Peace River in northern British Columbia. The 13th longest river system on the planet, the Peace River flows through the province in an area largely populated by Indigenous people, including West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, two of the smallest bands covered by the Treaty 8, the government’s centenary agreement. with indigenous people destined to last “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow”.

Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace movie information for screenings:
TIFF page- https://www.tiff.net/events/scarborough
IMDb page – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt15302236

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