Toronto’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival Runs Oct. 19-23

Isuaqtuq Ikkidluak out on the seal ice while seal hunting in Angry Inuk
Photo by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril


By Pat Mullen

Toronto’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival starts tomorrow. The festival kicks off with Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk, which comes to imagineNATIVE after winning the Audience Award at Hot Docs earlier this year. (Read more about the film in the cover story for POV #103 ‘Why Are the Inuit So Angry?’)

The Opening Night slot for Angry Inuk highlights a strong year for documentaries by Indigenous and Inuit filmmakers at this year’s festival. This forum invites audiences to engage with films by and about Indigenous communities both in Canada and around the world. The international front includes a spotlight on Greenland, which offers a worthy continutation of the stories told in Angry Inuk as 90% of the nation’s population is Inuit (Greelandic).

Canadian docs have a strong presence at this year’s festival,too, with Alanis Obomsawin’s essential doc We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice offering a case study of contemporary discrimination against Indigenous children that echoes the Residential School system. Reconciliation is at the heart of many of the Canadian docs this year, both in terms of the significance of the official apology and in terms of the work that still needs to be done.

Docs are well represented in the short films from Canadian and international filmmakers alike. The short docs include Erika MacPherson and Katherena Vermette’s award winner this river, and the World Premieres of Alexandra Lazarowich’s Cree Code Talker and Katsitsionni Fox’s Ohero:konUnder the Husk.

On the industry side, imagineNATIVE joins the wave of festivals showcasing the new potentials of VR. Among the VR works is Lisa Jackson’s journey along and around Highway 16, aka the Highway of Tears, where 18 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing. The doc promises to be an immersive and chilling experience.

Doc highlights at this year’s imagineNATIVE festival include:

Angry Inuk
Dir. Alethea Arnaquq-Baril | Canada | 85 min.

In this power and passionate advocacy piece, filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril joins her peers in fighting a ban on the trade of seal fur, which sustains a significant portion of the Inuit community. The doc confronts misrepresentations of the seal hunt circulated by the media and endorsed by celebrities like Pamela Anderson and Brigitte Bardot, and Arnaquq-Baril takes the audience on a traditional hunt to counter these images. As she speaks with members of the community and joins the campaign at the United Nations and on the streets of Toronto, Angry Inuk shows a cause worth fighting for. Read more about Angry Inuk in the POV review and cover story ‘Why Are the Inuit So Angry?’.


Angry Inuk (Trailer) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

Journey Towards Reconciliation
Dir. Paige L’Hirondelle, Sharon Somer | Canada | 55 min.

The 2014 Truth and Reconciliation Commission finds itself under the microscope in this mid-length feature from Paige L’Hirondelle and Sharon Somer. Journey Towards Reconciliation explores the meaning behind the word ‘reconciliation’ as several Indigenous youth follow the Commission to seven national events across Canada. Using their own perspectives, this doc sees the Commission through the eyes of Indigenous youth and their hope for the future.

ImagineNATIVE’s Short Documentary Pitch Competition

This annual industry event challenges four filmmaking teams (three pre-selected and one wild card) with pitching their projects to a team of experts from the doc community. The winning project receives a prize of $4500 cash and $3000 in production support and in-kind donations. The panel for this year’s Short Documentary Pitch Competition features filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, Hot Docs Director of Programming Shane Smith, DOC Institute Director Adam Shamoon, CBC Docs Executive in Charge of Production Lesley Birchard, APTN Manager of Programming Nadia Gaudet Burnstick, National Screen Institute (NSI) Manager of Programs & Development Ursual Lawson, and will be moderated by industry strategist Deborah Day.

Solid Ground: Canadian Shorts

This line-up of Canadian shorts includes a half-dozen docs from filmmakers from around the country. Festival staple Caroline Monnet returns with the railway doc Tshiuetin, while Alexandra Lazarowich’s Cree Code Talker looks at the powerful weapon of Cree language in World War II. Two shorts examine the threat of violence under which many Indigenous women live as Tasha Hubbard invites a young woman named Marie to share a story of being stalked by a predator in 7 Minutes and Erika MacPherson and Katherena Vermette profile initiatives to find evidence of women who disappear along Winnipeg’s Red River in this river. Doc fans eager to see provocative experiments in form will enjoy the programme for Virginie Michel’s Ute Kanata (ici au Canada), which adapts “O, Canada” to reflect the experiences of Indigenous Canadians, and Michelle Derosier animates the healing power of tradition in Grandfather Drum. Read more on Grandfather Drum in this POV profile of Derosier.


this river Trailer from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

SUME – Mumisitsinerup Nipaa (SUMÉ – The Sound of a Revolution)
Dir. Inuk Silis Høegh | Greenland | 73 min.

SUME returns to imagineNATIVE after being a festival favourite in 2014 where it won the Jane Glassco Award for an Emerging Filmmaker and the Cynthia Lickers-Sage Award for Emerging Talent. The doc gets an encore as part of the festival’s Spotlight on Greenland programme. SUME profiles the band Sumé, which holds the distinction of being the first Indigenous music group to record a rock album in the Greelandic language.

We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice
Dir. Alanis Obomsawin | Canada | 165 min.

Alanis Obomsawin’s We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice remains one of the major Canadian talking points from this year’s Toronto International Film Festival where it premiered in the prestigious Masters programme. The doc, nine years in the making, sees the legendary filmmaker chronicle the plight of advocate Dr. Cindy Blackstock as she fights for fair care for Indigenous children living on reserves. The case makes its way to the Supreme Court where Obomsawin ultimately puts Canada on trial for its history of Residential Schools and its failure to learn from the past to correct the flaws of the present. Read more about the doc in the current cover story of POV in which Obomsawin talks about the film with editor Marc Glassman.


We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice (Trailer) from NFB/marketing on Vimeo.

Sparrooabbán (Me and My Little Sister)
Dir. Suvi West | Finland | 66 min.

imagineNATIVE highlights LGBTQ experiences with a number of docs including the Finnish feature Me and My Little Sister. The film sees director Suvi West accompany her sister Kaisa on a journey as they confront the implications of their conservative hometown. The concern for both sisters is one of acceptance as Kaisa, a lesbian, wishes to have a baby but worries what kind of future her child might have in a community that resists change.

Colonization Road
Dir. Michelle St. John | Canada | 49 min.

Audiences at imagineNATIVE will cringe as they watch Stephen Harber deny that Canada has a history of colonialism. It’s a joke that a Prime Minister offers an apology for a history of which he is wholly ignorant, so filmmaker Michelle St. John follows Anishinaabe comedian and activist Ryan McMahon down one of Canada’s many Colonization Roads to confront this nation’s unfunny history of colonialism and broken promises.


Colonization Road Trailer from Frog Girl Films on Vimeo.

imagineNATIVE runs Oct. 19-23.
Please visit imaginenative.org for more information.