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Five Picks for imagineNATIVE Film Festival

Fest runs in Toronto Oct. 18 to 22

8 mins read

Catch stories of resistance and resilience this week as Toronto’s imagineNATIVE Film + Media Festival returns to Toronto. The festival offers audiences a chance to look beyond the land acknowledgements that precede every screening and think a little deeper by considering the histories and experiences that inform the works by Indigenous storytellers. The festival offers a range of films—docs, dramas, shorts, and works that defy easy categorization—to engage viewers with the spectrum of perspectives at hand. This year’s imagineNATIVE kicks off with the drama Fancy Dance starring Lily Gladstone, who audiences can see in theatres later this week with Martin Scorsese’s Killers of the Flower Moon and a performance that’s earning Oscar buzz. The festival also features industry events and workshops with an eye for professional development.

Killers of the Flower Moon will be in theatres for weeks, but imagineNATIVE runs in Toronto from October 18 to 22, so here are five films to see at the festival running now until October 22:


I’m Just Here for the Riot

Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 8:45pm

A Hot Docs crowd-pleaser gets an encore as directors Asia Youngman and Kat Jayme look at the fallout from the 2011 Vancouver riots that shocked Canada and the world. I’m Just Here for the Riot, which premiered at Hot Docs earlier this year, revisits the zany footage depicting Vancouverites brazenly taking to the streets after their beloved Vancouver Canucks lost the Stanley Cup to the Boston Bruins in Game 7. The case proved especially bizarre as a turning point for social media, since the mob of hockey hosers extensively documented the carnage, which led to the arrests of some rioters and trials in the court of public opinion for others. The film turns the question of the mob back on itself as people who were identified from the footage reflect upon their actions, but also the consequences of a momentary mistake that now lives online forever. Read more in Susan G. Cole’s review of the film.


Tautuktavuk (What We See)

Thursday, Oct. 18 at 5:00pm (Online: Oct. 23-29)

A unique film that deftly straddles the grey area between fiction and non-fiction, Tautuktavuk (What We See) offers an auto-fiction drama and a collaboration between filmmakers Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk. It is rooted in realism and draws upon the consequences of alienation forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The film, which won the Amplify Voices Award for Best BIPOC Canadian First Feature Award at TIFF earlier this year, plays off the artists’ relationship. The film sees Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk portray sisters who connect over Zoom when lockdowns leave the latter in Montreal while the former remains up north. The conversations gradually reveal past traumas, while the film’s observational eye lets the reality of the Inuit community shine through. Read more in my review from TIFF.



Thursday, Oct. 19 at 6:15pm

Audiences eager to experience a work that blurs the line between documentary and performance might want to catch the world premiere of ISHI at imagineNATIVE. Director Dana Claxton captures the performance of late ISHI collective member James Luna’s ISHI: THE Archive Performance. The play tells the story of an Indigenous man named Ishi, who strolled into a California town in 1911 and caught the residents by surprise. They looked at him with a mix of pity and wonder, and invited him to live at the Museum on the University of California Berkeley’s campus in the “advancement of science.” Performances by Skeena Reece, Tracy Lee Nelson, Jeneen Frei Njootli, Adrian Simpson, Laura Ortman, Gerald Clark, Lori Blondeau, Joseph Paul, and Lorne Cardinal bring Ishi’s story to life and consider the colonial power dynamics of archives and anthropology.


WaaPake (Tomorrow)

Sunday, Oct. 22 at 1:30pm (Online: Oct. 23-29)

Tough but necessary conversations fuel Jules Koostachin’s NFB documentary WaaPaKe (Tomorrow). The doc, which won Best BC Film recently at the Vancouver International Film Festival, observes as Koostachin engages her family and friends in an exercise in exploring intergenerational trauma. WaaPaKe considers the plight of future generations as Koostachin, her mother, and her son reflect upon the violence of the residential schools and how her mother’s trauma was passed down between generations. While the film invites an open forum for tackling a heavy topic, WaaPaKe is especially notable for the attention to production protocols that are sensitive to the experiences of Indigenous participants, abuse survivors, and those who are not present to tell their stories. The film puts in practice many of the ideas for respectful storytelling that have been filtering through the film community. Read more in my review from VIFF.


Hey, Viktor!

Sunday, Oct. 22 at 7:00pm

It’s not a documentary per se, but the doc crowd can probably use a little levity amid all the festivals screening so much weighty material this month. Cody Lightning makes his feature directorial debut with a wickedly funny mockumentary that sees him desperately try to reclaim the stardom that slipped through his fingers years ago. Lightning looks back on his role playing the younger version of Adam Beach’s character Victor (drolly renamed Viktor here for proprietary reasons) in the 1998 Sundance sensation Smoke Signals. Hey Viktor sees Lightning humorously try to recapture the magic as a fictional documentary crew follows his endeavours to make Smoke Signals 2 and try to recruit all the players from the original film in order to please an extremely sketchy financier. Lightning proves himself a natural on both sides of the camera with an endearing snapshot of the film industry’s eagerness to champion a diversity of voices in practice, but its reluctance to give worthy talents their shot at stardom.


imagineNATIVE screens in Toronto at TIFF Lightbox from Oct. 18 to 22, and online from Oct. 23 to 29.

Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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