NFB Making Strong Progress on Indigenous Action Plan

Debbie Baptiste in nipawistamasowin: We Will Stand Up
Courtesy of the NFB

By Pat Mullen

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is meeting several targets set by its Indigenous Action Plan ahead of schedule. The NFB marked National Indigenous Peoples Day with an announcement that it has delivered its pledge to devote 15% of production spending to Indigenous works. The target was set on June 21, 2017 in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s call to action, and in acknowledgement of the role of that images play in shaping the systemic inequities that impact Indigenous lives to this day. With over 40 Indigenous led works on the NFB slate since the announcement, including the current release of Tasha Hubbard’s widely acclaimed nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, the Board is leading the field in creating positive change on Canadian screens. While there is obviously lots of work still to be done, the NFB’s results are an encouraging forecast for the industry.

“This current and upcoming body of work by Indigenous filmmakers brings together talented artists from across Canada, who are bringing vital stories and perspectives to Canadian and international screens,” said Claude Joli-Coeur, NFB Chairperson, in a statement from the Board. “Together, they are helping to define the future of Indigenous cinema, strengthening Indigenous communities, and changing how we understand each other and share this land.”

Other projects by Indigenous filmmakers in the works include Michelle Latimer’s highly anticipated doc adaptation of Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian, which is expected to debut next year, and Alanis Obomsawin’s 53rd film, Jordan’s Principle, which continues the recent chapter in her body of work that examines the plight and future of Indigenous children and is expected to debut in the Fall film festival cycle. Also in production is Kim O’Bomsawin’s feature documentary Nin, Auass, an intimate portrait of the experience of early childhood in the communities of Pessamit, Manawan and Whapmagoostui, and Angelina McLeod’s Freedom Road, a short doc series about the First Nations community of Shoal Lake 40, which has been separated from the mainland for 100 years due to an aqueduct built to supply water to Winnipeg. Additional animated, VR, and AR works are in production, along with several docs and shorts.

The recent successes of the Indigenous action plan also include efforts for distribution, community engagement, and organizational transformation. Indigenous Cinema launched in 2018 and offers perhaps the largest available streaming library of films by and about Indigenous persons. The films, available for free, are constantly being updated with recent additions including Tasha Hubbard’s 2017 doc Birth of a Family and Jay Cardinal’s short Holy Angels with additional films premiering on June 21. A new online educational stream of Indigenous cinema is still to come. The NFB has brought films to communities nationwide through the Aabiziingwashi (Wide Awake) Indigenous Cinema Tour, which has offered over 1300 screenings that engage Canadians in conversations about the issues raised in the films.

The Board’s work in leading industry transformation includes its support for imagineNATIVE’s recently released guide On-Screen Protocols & Pathways: A Media Production Guide to Working with First Nations, Métis and Inuit Communities, Cultures, Concepts and Stories. The NFB says that it is applying the guide’s principles to its roster of productions to ensure respect, care, consent, and collaboration. The NFB reports that 1.25% of its positions are held by Indigenous employees and aims to meet its target of 4% Indigenous representation across all sectors and levels of the NFB’s workforce—a minimum of 16 Indigenous team members—by 2025.

“Over the last two years, the NFB has worked diligently and consistently in implementing its Indigenous Action Plan,” said Jason Ryle, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Advisory Group, in a statement from the NFB. “During this time, the NFB has demonstrated that a determined leadership within a large national institution can take decisive, timely, and practical actions that support Indigenous filmmakers, productions, and capacity—and lead to positive change. The Advisory Group is particularly pleased to see so many Indigenous-led projects in development and production and congratulates all those involved for the successes achieved to date, while we also look forward to what is to come.”

“At the NFB, we’re working hard to honour the commitments in our action plan, and I’m profoundly grateful to the Indigenous advisory group for continuing to work with us and guide us in this process,” added Joli-Coeur.