CBC Digital Archives

Filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin: behind Mohawk lines

Flares were burning and helicopters were buzzing overhead, but it was the tranquility of a mother calming her child that struck Alanis Obomsawin most. It was the summer of 1990, and Obomsawin was shooting a documentary behind Mohawk barricades during the standoff at Oka, Que. Three years later, her film, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, is receiving near-universal acclaim and winning awards. In this clip from CBC-TV's Midday, Obomsawin says her film tries to get at the heart of why the standoff happened.
• Produced by the National Film Board, Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance was broadcast on television in the United Kingdom in July 1993. Its North American premiere was in September 1993 at the Toronto Festival of Festivals (now Toronto International Film Festival), and Obomsawin won a $25,000 award for best feature at the festival.

• "I was in my car when the [first] shooting [at Oka] occurred, on my way to another film shoot. I changed directions right away. I was working on something else that I completely dropped and raced to capture the standoff on film. People outside of Canada were shocked when they saw this movie. They couldn't imagine that something like this was taking place here. The only negative reaction came when the film was released in French in Quebec." - Alanis Obomsawin, from the NFB website

• The CBC turned down the opportunity to air the documentary upon its release. In a 1993 article in the Globe and Mail, the broadcaster's executive producer of documentaries, Mark Starowicz, said: "It is incorrect to present the situation as the CBC refusing to run the film. We are absolutely committed to showing it. The only factors that remain are when and in what format." Obomsawin disputed that. "[CBC] refused the film in its present form and demanded a long list of changes, many of which are completely unacceptable," she said.

• The film eventually aired uncut on the CBC documentary program Witness in January 1994, followed by a panel discussion aimed at offering a different perspective from the film's pro-Mohawk viewpoint.

• For more on the events at Oka in 1990, see the CBC Digital Archives topic The Oka Crisis.

Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Oct. 28, 1993
Guest: Alanis Obomsawin
Host: Kevin Newman, Lynn Whitham
Duration: 8:02
Kahnesatake: 270 Years of Resistance: National Film Board of Canada.

Last updated: October 23, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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