Media lab will examine First Nations on film

Filmmaker Loretta Todd is spearheading a new project to examine how First Nations people are portrayed in the media and come up with ways to show them more accurately.

Filmmaker Loretta Todd is spearheading a new project to examine how First Nations people are portrayed in the media and to come up with ways to show them more accurately.

The Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab has been set up in Vancouver in a joint venture with the University of British Columbia's First Nations studies program, the Chief Dan George Centre and Simon Fraser University.

Todd, the maker of documentaries such as Forgotten Warriors and Kainayssini Imanistaisiwa: The People Go On, says she wants to challenge the stereotypes she believes are still deeply entrenched in today's media.

"I looked around at Canada and I looked at the fact that despite the various documentaries and various efforts at telling our history there was still a lot of misconceptions about our history, there was still distortions about our history," she said in an interview with CBC Radio.

Growing up in Northern Alberta, Todd, who is Métis/Cree, says she saw documentaries that either made viewers laugh at aboriginal people or fear them. There have been few attempts to show an accurate history, she said.

"There is a legacy of misrepresentation — and of native people playing certain roles in the western imagination," she said. 

Almost no portrayals show aboriginal people living in the present, or show them as fully rounded individuals, she said.
 
"So I set off to create this lab that would investigate that," she said "We would research that and try to examine why there is this disconnect between the telling of our history and the fact that people still seem to get it so distorted and the consequences of that... that people have that distorted view of who we are and our place in this country."

The project will begin by examining how aboriginal people are shown in film and on television in productions ranging from the 1930s film The Silent Enemy to the CBC series A People's History.

The ultimate aim of the three-year project is to improve the quality and quantity of storytelling about aboriginal people, she said.

Todd envisions the lab growing into a full media production centre catering to independent filmmakers.

Todd's films have been screened at the Sundance Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, the Hot Docs Festival and the Museum of Modern Art. She won a Rockefeller Fellowship to New York University.