Alanis Obomsawin brought fans to their feet in Toronto Wednesday night, as the Canadian filmmaking icon helped kick off the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival with her new doc about the crisis in Attawapiskat.
"You make me feel like I’m coming home," she told the crowd about its warm welcome, after ascending the stage.
Obomsawin’s documentary film career has spanned four decades and more than 30 films. Her work is dedicated to Aboriginal peoples and she chronicles First Nations experiences, but her exploration of social and political issues is of interest to all Canadians. Of Abenaki descent, she has received several honorary degrees and awards, including her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Her film Christmas at Moose Factory started off Wednesday night's screening and it definitely took the audience back. It was her first short film, created in the late ‘60s. The film presented a creative take in documenting the lives of Cree children through their illustrations, renderings, and their own voices, as the children do the storytelling from their perspective.
Lisa Charleyboy is Tsilhqot’in from the interior of British Columbia. Currently living in Toronto, she's a freelance writer who has written for Indian Country Today, THIS Magazine, and MSN Canada. Sharply savvy in the ways of social media, her blog Urban Native Girl presents pop culture with an indigenous twist. Follow her ImagineNATIVE Festival coverage on CBCNews.ca/arts.
Presenting a distinct point of view is exactly what Obomsawin is known for and this was reiterated with the night's feature film. In her new doc The People of the Kattawapiskak River, Obomsawin offers the audience a glimpse into the previously untold story of community members from Attawapiskat First Nation in Northern Ontario. Last October, when Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence declared a state of emergency because of the state of housing on the reserve, the small community became the spotlight of media attention all over the globe.
That spotlight wasn’t always so friendly and many media stories focussed on the chief and council of the community, placing the blame on them rather than exploring the issues at hand.
The documentary captures the people who live in Attawapiskat, who share their stories and why they continue to live there despite some deplorable conditions. There is finally a personal touch to the tale, so vastly different than the mass media reports that emerged last fall.
Despite the seemingly gloomy feel to the film, it offered a bright light of hope and change that was felt throughout the cinema. At the end of the screening, Obomsawin was joined on the stage by Spence, NDP MP Charlie Angus, and members of the Attawapiskat First Nation. There was a celebratory cheer in the air that must have contributed to her feeling at home in a theatre where her work, once again, was being warmly received.