There's a massive free catalogue of Indigenous films online — and we have 6 picks to get you started
For Canadian Film Day, filmmakers and curators make recommendations from the NFB's new Indigenous catalogue
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This story was originally published April 18th, 2018.
Last month, the National Film Board of Canada launched Indigenous cinema, an extensive online library of over 200 films by Indigenous directors — part of a three-year Indigenous Action Plan to "redefine" the NFB's relationship with Indigenous peoples.
To celebrate Canadian Film Day, we asked Indigenous filmmakers and film programmers to go through the library and recommend a film. Here's what they chose and why:
CBQM (Dennis Allen, 2009)
"This is a beautiful, heartfelt love letter to Indigenous community radio. With grace, humour and a skillful eye, Dennis Allen takes us inside the CBQM radio station in Fort McPherson, N.W.T. — and through it creates a tender, intimate portrait of a northern community. Alongside the music, interviews and community announcements, we witness how the airwaves remain a lifeblood of rural — and particularly northern — communities. CBQM is a touching documentary that makes me long for home." – Jason Ryle, imagineNATIVE programmer
First Stories - Two Spirited (Sharon A. Desjarlais, 2007)
"This film makes me smile every time I watch it. It has a message of hope and healing not only for two-spirit people, but for all Indigenous people. It's important to continue to hear stories like this, and to keep having discussions about how colonial views have impacted how each of our nations engage and view gender roles and sexual identities, especially in the context of healing and helping our communities and each other. When I watch this film I'm filled with hope, and reminded of all the work there is to come. I'm very thankful for this beautiful story." – Bretten Hannam, filmmaker
Foster Child (Gil Cardinal, 1987)
"We have to tell our stories as Native people — the good ones and the bad ones." – Gil Cardinal, 1991 CBC Morningside Interview
"All Canadians should be required to watch Foster Child by Métis director Gil Cardinal. This cinéma-vérité documentary follows Mr. Cardinal as he searches for his family roots as a fostered child looking for his birth family and his Indigenous identity. The film is compelling, beautiful and heartbreaking. At a time like now, when Indigenous children in Canada are being apprehended by child welfare at the highest rate in history, this film is as relevant today as it was in 1987. Mr. Cardinal passed away on November 21, 2015, and his legacy is one of courage, passion, generosity, love and Indigenous representation on the big screen. He is an important part of the legacy of filmmaking in this country, and he blazed a trail across Canada and the world for all Indigenous filmmakers, myself included. We can honour him by acknowledging that he paved the way forward for all Indigenous filmmakers." – Alex Lazarowich, filmmaker
Lumaajuuq (Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, 2010)
"Lumaajuuq is a beautiful film that tells the story of 'The Blind Man and the Loon.' For me, it is a wonderful example of the complexity of Inuit myth and legend that incorporates elements of animism with ritual and taboo. What I particularly enjoy is seeing Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk, Tunnit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos), who is best known for her activism documentary work, playing with narrative and doing it exceptionally well."
"The myths and legends that are passed down from generation to generation work to show the belief systems and guiding principles of the Inuit people. In the case of Lumaajuuq, it is important for community members to work together and share resources — and when that doesn't happen, a taboo is broken and there must be revenge. Life in the North can be difficult, and the relationship to the land is one that guides all aspects of life, whether it is the sharing of resources or our relationships with animals. Sila, or 'breath,' is a life force that exists in every living thing in the Arctic including the loon, which has human-like consciousness with powers that can bring back sight. While the story might be one of revenge, the connectedness to all things living is a beautiful way to interpret the world." – Nyla Innuksuk, filmmaker
Nimmikaage (Michelle Latimer, 2015)
"First of all, Michelle Latimer's Nimmikaage (She Dances for People) is a must-watch because it's gorgeous. Beautiful images of from the NFB archive collide with vocalizations from Tanya Tagaq, creating a film that is both immediate and slippery — like the best dreams are. Latimer teases out nuanced questions about the archival footage, making the audience wonder: who are these women performing for? What does it mean to perform culture? Is something lost when your culture becomes a performance? Does anything remain? A passive dynamic between the women onscreen and the filmed audience dissolves as the women and animals seem to take control of the film. Latimer shows us that even when filtered through the uneven colonial dynamics of cultural 'performer' and audience, the truest, most fundamental pieces of culture remain. These women have undeniable spirit and presence, and the film is a joy to watch." – Adam Jones, filmmaker
The People of the Kattawapiskak River (Alanis Obomsawin, 2012)
"Alanis Obomsawin has dedicated her film career to familiarizing non-Indigenous Canadians with the struggles First Peoples face on a daily basis. When Chief Teresa Spence called a state of emergency in 2012 for a housing crisis in the community of Kattawapiskak, the media immediately pointed the finger to the First Nations Band Council for misappropriating the funds they were given by the Canadian Government. This documentary showcases evidence of the opposite, highlighting the government, the diamond mines and the skyrocketing freight costs as the contributing factors keeping the community in impoverished third word conditions. The People of the Kattawapiskak River is just one of many important documentaries directed by the legendary Alanis Obomsawin giving a platform to First Nations communities the urban areas seem to have forgotten." – Judith Schuyler, imagineNATIVE programmer
To view the entire catalogue of Indigenous films at the NFB, click here.