Ever Nish is a short documentary which simply and directly asks aboriginal people what it means to be ‘Nish. And with a large indigenous contingent in the audience Friday, it was safe to say that a lot of people got the inside jokes. However, when asked about how aboriginal people are able to laugh at themselves and always be joking, many of the interviewees turned very solemn (along with the audience) in their responses, describing how it is their jovial spirit that keeps them going in the face of incredible adversity.
Cultural appropriation, and re-appropriation, were also prominent themes in the shorts programs. Maiden Indian, a short film by The Ephemerals – Jaimie Isaac, Niki Little and Jenny Western, a collective of female artists from Winnipeg – is a response to the increasingly popular presence of "Indian wear" in contemporary fashion. In the film, the three filmmakers collect materials from various chain-clothing stores, and re-fashion them into what resembles traditional First Nations garb. And then they ride around the streets of Winnipeg on their bicycles "dressed up" as Indians. The confused and bewildered expressions on the faces of people in their cars and on the sidewalk are in effect the essential impetus for the film: As Jaimie told me, they (the filmmakers) wanted to make people think about about these relationships, and were "interested in really questioning, rather than making a statement."
Jaimie told me she was offended by corporations and big fashion chains like "Aldo and Urban Outfitters benefiting from a culture and commodifying it." The Ephemerals wanted to talk about what clothing signifies and to question the "commodification of indigenous wares," as well as encouraging "buying local" from actual indigenous craftspeople who have been practicing their craft for generations.
The film was scored by Bear Witness, a member of A Tribe Called Red – a group and DJs who played the opening night gala party on Wednesday evening. Bear Witness also had a short film in the Land Figures: Experimental Shorts program, which screened on Thursday night, and which also had a strong youth presence. The film, Make Your Escape, involved Bear re-appropriating a pair of white Vans sneakers. The first part of the film he takes the shoes apart, removing their insoles and cutting them open from the heel. He then proceeds to take the shoes and place them on various statues of Aboriginal figures that populate downtown Ottawa. This re-appropriation of cultural products also created strong reactions from the public who witnessed them. "People were gathering and lots of people were giggling," he said in the filmmakers' Q&A Thursday.
Tyler Hagan is a Métis filmmaker from Vancouver who recently graduated with a BFA in film from Simon Fraser University. His work has been shown at festivals locally and internationally. Follow his ImagineNATIVE Festival coverage on CBCNews.ca/arts, plus updates via Twitter: @ShakeyFilms_TH
There were plenty of other emerging filmmakers in these screenings that I would love to write more about, but as it goes, time and space are limited. I’ll quickly mention Jennifer Dysart’s Moss Origins, which was an incredibly tactile exploration of that fuzzy stuff on the forest floor; Vancouver’s Chris Bose, whose Jesus Coyote TeeVee’s layer upon layer of image and text left the audience nearly brain-dead from over-stimulation; Marcella A. Ernest’s Because of Who I Am, which beautifully examined the perspective of a female First Nations dancer who chose to wear the traditional male dancer’s regalia and was ridiculed for it; and Tewanee Joseph’s The Gathering, which chronicled the youth performers who travelled from across the country to take part in the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, and how special this moment was for them to be able to represent their communities and nations in front of the whole world.
Great stuff. Further reading for today is on Brian Jungen which the Make Your Escape video reminded me of. Jungen’s practice is all about re-appropriation, and he famously created indigenous Pacific Coast sculptures from Nike Air Jordans. Talk soon.