Montreal film festival apologizes for screening 'racist' film last year

A year after it screened a film panned by Inuit artists and others as a proliferation of negative stereotypes, a Montreal film festival has issued an apology.

RIDM festival faced intense criticism for screening 'of the North' by director Dominic Gagnon

A still from the mashup film of the North by Quebec director Dominic Gagnon. The film has been called 'racist' by many Inuit artists. (Dominic Gagnon)

A year after it screened a film that Inuit panned as a proliferation of negative stereotypes, a Montreal film festival has issued an apology.

In a news release issued Thursday, organizers of the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) apologized "for having presented a film with a colonial perspective that perpetuates racist stereotypes." 

The film in question, of the North, is a 74-minute collage film about modern day life in Northern Canada, was screened at the festival last November.

A group of musicians says the mid-festival apology follows pressure they put on RIDM through a boycott and jointly signed letter Nov. 16.

One of the musicians scheduled to perform at an RIDM event Thursday night, Meghan Sivani-Merrigan, decided instead to perform at another event in solidarity with marginalized groups that "deal with systemic racism everyday."

The original version of director Dominic Gagnon's film was made up of publicly available clips drawn from the Internet, mixing images of snow, Ski-Doos and hunting with clips of Inuit appearing drunk, crashing ATVs and vomiting.

Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq took the festival to task for showing the film, which she called "painful and racist."

She also said her music was used in the film without her consent. It was later taken out.

Sivani-Merrigan suggests that RIDM is "trying to up their programming" by including people of mixed backgrounds. She wants the film festival to be more transparent about why it apologized — which she says is because she and the other musicians pressured organizers.

Musicians read their letter to RIDM on-stage at an event Thursday. From left to right: Helen Hayward-Cube, Meghan Sivani-Merrigan, Isabella Rose-Weetaluktuk. (courtesy Meghan Sivani-Merrigan)

Further condemnation

The festival organized a panel discussion last week entitled "Indigenous Videographers Shoot Back," and invited Mohawk, Ojibwa, Abenaki and Inuit filmmakers, journalists and academics.

The speakers unanimously condemned the film and the festival for screening it, prompting organizers to apologize.

Charlotte Selb, who was the festival's programming director at the time and who stood behind the decision to screen the film, added her name to the apology. 

Organizers say they will "take steps to improve its consideration of problematic points of view during the festival's curation."

Earlier this year, the film's distributor apologized to the Inuit community.