Sunday October 23, 2016

Indigenous filmmakers need to control storytelling, says Jesse Wente

Zacharias Kunuk's Maliglutit (Searchers), a kidnapping-murder tale set in Nunavut, circa 1913 screens at ImagineNATIVE.

Zacharias Kunuk's Maliglutit (Searchers), a kidnapping-murder tale set in Nunavut, circa 1913 screens at ImagineNATIVE. (TIFF)

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Jesse Wente is Unreserved's new culture columnist. And in his day job as the director of film programs at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, he spends a lot of time at the movies.

He was also involved in the early stages of the ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival on the board and programming level, and has seen how the annual event has grown over 17 years. 

"When I joined ImagineNATIVE in the early days, it was largely attended by an Indigenous audience here in Toronto — pretty dedicated, small-ish group of people. I think last year they did well over 20,000 and they're expecting maybe as high as 30,000 for this year's festival," he said.

For Wente, festivals provide a great opportunity for films that fall outside the traditional multiplex market, fostering the culture and artists so they can grow the medium.

Jesse Wente

Jesse Wente (Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Photography)

"Our stories are growing in popularity and recognition. I see a much bigger appetite for these discussions and engagement around Indigenous stories and Indigenous issues. I think non-Indigenous creators see this as well. And what we're seeing is a lot of interest in these stories, established producers looking to tell these stories," he said. 

"And while these people may have the best intentions, when it comes to movies, we have such a long history where we've seen Indigenous stories told not by us. So I think as the appetite for our stories grows, as the audience for our stories grows, it becomes even more important for us to be as in control of those stories and how they're told as we can possibly be."


Click the Listen button above to hear Jesse's conversation with Rosanna Deerchild.