North

‘It’s our story:’ N.W.T. Healing Film Festival kicks off Sunday

Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen is preparing to tour nine N.W.T. communities to show his feature length documentary, Crazywater, as part of the Healing Film Festival to mark National Addictions Week.

'I like to say it’s the story of aboriginal people and alcohol,' says Dennis Allen of his film Crazywater

Dennis Allen appears in a scene from Crazywater, his feature documentary about alcohol addictions. 'I could name so many people I know who have died because of alcoholism or are in prison,' he says. 'It’s so pervasive. It’s so embedded in our lives. It’s getting better, but it’s still there.' (Crazywater/NFB)

A filmmaker who was born and raised in Inuvik, N.W.T., is using his feature length documentary to spark a conversation about alcohol.  

Starting in Yellowknife on Sunday, Dennis Allen will tour nine N.W.T. communities to show his film Crazywater as part of the Healing Film Festival to mark National Addictions Week. The event is organized by the film collective, Western Arctic Moving Pictures, with funding and support from N.W.T.’s Health and Social Services and the National Film Board.

Allen’s tells the story of five people, including himself, and their addictions and recovery.

“It’s our story,” Allen says. “I like to say it’s the story of aboriginal people and alcohol.”

Allen, the son of an Inupiat father and Gwich’in mother, says alcohol is “right up there with residential school and tuberculosis,” for native people, and remains the biggest killer.

“I could name so many people I know who have died because of alcoholism or are in prison,” he says. “Every single mother’s got a story about an ex who just can’t stop drinking. It’s so pervasive. It’s so embedded in our lives. It’s getting better, but it’s still there."

The goal of the tour is to spark conversation about alcoholism. Staff from Health and Social Services will be on hand to talk about treatment options.

Allen himself is a recovered alcoholic. He admits he’s nervous about the tour and how his film will be received.

“The disease of alcoholism is such a shameful and guilt-ridden disease. No one wants to talk about it.”

'You don't air dirty laundry'

More than that — Allen fears that talking about his struggles breaks many taboos.

“I talk about my family. Addictions start at home. I was taught how to drink from my father. I’m still afraid of what people are gonna say when I say that, because we’re trained not to talk about our family. You don’t air dirty laundry,” Allen says.

“To hell with the kids that are coming down the pipe and that are gonna feel the effects of all of this secrecy and lies. Don’t embarrass us by talking about family. Don’t embarrass us by talking  about your community and your people. To hell with the kids that are coming out. They’ll have to just tough it out and make it on their own because that’s what we do.”

But one year after first releasing Crazywater, Allen has already had several experiences of showing the film, and being thanked for it.

He’s hoping people will recognize the stories in his film as their own, and that will happen again.

Throughout the week, Allen’s film will play alongside a selection of other films, including Tony: Back from the Brink, which tells the story of Tony Kalluk, a violent criminal who improbably turned his life around and now counsels youth in Clyde River, Nunavut.

The Healing Film Festival begins in Yellowknife Sunday night, then travels to Inuvik, Fort Good Hope, Fort McPherson, Hay River, Fort Smith, Fort Simpson, Fort Providence and Norman Wells.

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