RIDM Apologizes for ‘of the North’

Indigenous Photographers Shoot Back

By Pat Mullen

Recontres Internationales de Documentaire du Montreal / the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) issued an official apology today for screening Dominic Gagnon’s of the North at last year’s festival. The film drew immediate sensitivity for its dubious found footage mosaic that depicted the Inuit almost entirely through images of drunkness, violence, and other unflattering material drawn from the files of unsuspecting uploaders. The response drew outspoken cries from many corners of the First Nations communities and wider public alike, including singer Tanya Tagaq, whose music was used without permission, and filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, who spoke at length with POV in a passionate interview. The film then became a tool for freedom of expression when Gagnon continued to screen the film with black pauses in place of select images. It continued to draw controversy until distributor Vidéographe withdrew the film from circulation in March 2016 and issued an apology.

Following intense debate in the Indigenous Videographers Shoot Back panel at this year’s festival, which included Arnaquq-Baril along with Alanis Obomsawin, Isabella Weetaluktuk, Adam Khalil, and Zack Khalil, the festival recognised its cultural insensitivity in screening the film. Here is RIDM’s full statement below:

After a process of reflection, after listening, discussing and consulting with many people, including Inuit and members of First Nations, the RIDM recognizes that it was wrong to present the film of the North in 2015. The RIDM officially apologizes for its mistake, and for its initial response to the criticism it received.

On Saturday, November 12, during the 19th edition of the festival, the RIDM hosted a public discussion entitled “Indigenous Videographers Shoot Back”. The panel of Mohawk, Ojibwa, Abenaki and Inuit filmmakers, journalists and academics were unanimous in condemning both the film and the RIDM’s decision to include it in the festival.

Following this important discussion, the RIDM stated its position to the room and has now decided to make this position public with the intention of continuing the important process of reconciliation.

The RIDM apologizes for having presented a film with a colonial perspective that perpetuates racist stereotypes. The festival plans to continue the process of listening, dialogue, and inclusion, and will take steps to improve its consideration of problematic points of view during the festival’s curation.

We want to thank everyone who agreed to enter into a dialogue with the RIDM this past year, and everyone who is working with the festival in order for the RIDM to continue to make positive and necessary changes