Incident at Restigouche
(Canada, 46 min; 1984)
Dir. Alanis Obomsawin
This 1984 film, which had a special screening at Hot Docs 2016, marked a turning point for Alanis Obomsawin. After making a series of films that celebrated the diversity and beauty of native culture, the Abenaki singer-turned-filmmaker dropped whatever inhibitions she may have had about expressing righteous anger, and kicked out the jams. The film anticipates her 1993 masterpiece, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance.
Wound tight as a drum, Restigouche exposes the preposterous invasion of a Mi’kmaq reservation in Quebec by provincial police armed to the teeth and in full riot gear. Hundreds of them pushed people to the ground, cuffed them and battered heads. The Minister of Fisheries, Lucien Lessard, had decided that the Mi’kmaq were over-fishing salmon, even though their take was paltry compared to commercial and sports fishermen. Obomsawin makes it clear that the fish provide both physical and spiritual sustenance for the Mi’kmaq. She places the outrageously violent “incident” into the entire history of native people of Canada. She once said to me, “They are the owners of this country—whether anybody wants to admit it or not—and there are a lot of people here not paying their rent.”
At the film’s climax, Obomsawin confronts Lessard on camera and looks ready to jump out of her chair at the smug politician who tries to cover up with talking point rationalisations. Lessard had no idea of what was at stake.
Alanis is in her 80’s now, still making films with the same passion.