DOC Institute Asks Michelle Latimer to Return Vanguard Award

By Patrick Mullen

Earlier this month, the DOC Institute bestowed the annual recognition of the BMO-DOC Vanguard Award to Michelle Latimer at the annual DOC Institute Honours. The award is given in recognition of an early to mid-career career filmmaker’s contribution to the documentary field. Since then, news has surfaced that challenges Latimer’s claims of Indigenous identity, which has prompted conversations about Indigenous identity and ancestry, as well as documentary ethics. While recent years in documentary have seen artists use the art form as a valuable tool for self-representation, the medium is rooted in misrepresentations of Indigenous communities by settler filmmakers. Following the recent news, conversations with DOC members, and assessments of the implications of the award, the DOC Institute has asked Latimer to return the DOC Vanguard award, which she has agreed to do. This news comes one day after the National Film Board of Canada withdrew Latimer’s award-winning doc Inconvenient Indian from active release and festival screenings, including Sundance, as it decides the best path forward for the film.

The full statement from the DOC Institute is as follows:

The DOC Institute is a hub for the documentary community, developing and leading programs to support non-fiction filmmakers. Once a year, the DOC Institute gives out two awards to peer-selected members of the documentary community.

This year, the DOC Institute presented the Vanguard Award to Michelle Latimer, in the spirit of celebrating a mid-career filmmaker who embodies creativity, social consciousness and leadership. Since the presentation, we, along with many of our members, have been watching closely and assessing the recent revelations regarding Michelle’s relationship with the Indigenous community. After careful consideration the DOC Institute has asked Michelle to return the award, which she has agreed to do.

As documentary filmmakers, our community strives to uphold the ethical principles of non-fiction filmmaking, in order to create narratives that are authentic and truthful. The work demands transparency, accountability, and a commitment to representation. The DOC Institute has accepted the return of this award, and will continue to listen to the Indigenous filmmaking community as we work towards upholding Indigenous narrative sovereignty in the documentary community.

The ceremonies of December 11 saw the DOC Institute Honours laud Abenaki filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin with the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award in recognition of her lifetime of work.