Film honouring Taíno activist shot on old school camera, developed with plant medicines

Siku Allooloo shot Spirit Emulsion on analog film with a Super 8 camera, which she describes as “a home video recording device from the 1960s” and instead of using chemicals to develop it, she used flowers.

Spirit Emulsions honours Siku Allooloo's mother and her legacy of activism

Siku Allooloo made a short film about her mother Marie-Hélène Laraque, an activist and Taíno Indigenous woman. The film will be available Canada-wide on Feb. 14. (Facebook/ Siku Allooloo)

When artist, writer and poet Siku Allooloo decided to make a short film about her mother, she knew she needed more than a digital camera and some snazzy editing software. 

So Allooloo shot Spirit Emulsion on analog film with a Super 8 camera which she describes as "a home video recording device from the 1960s" and instead of using chemicals to develop it, she used plants. 

"We made tea with Douglas fir needles and cedar needles and cedar leaves, and I threw some hibiscus flowers in there and some sweet grass and a bunch of things from the land," said Allooloo. 

"It was important for me to have that connection with the land and to have it done in this spiritually-connected way, because that's of course how we do things and how I was taught to do things growing up day-to-day." 

She chose to use plants and medicines from the N.W.T., where she was born and raised as well as from the Vancouver-area where she worked on the film during an artist residency with Cineworks, an independent, artist run, filmmakers society. 

"It was a beautiful experience," Allooloo said. 

Spirit Emulsion premiered at the Available Light Film Festival on Feb. 11, and will be available to watch Canada-wide as of Feb. 14. 

A poster for 'Spirit Emulsion,' a new experimental film by artist Siku Allooloo. (Lantern Films)

It was co-produced by Allooloo and Jessica Hallenbeck of Lantern Films. Hallenbeck says Allooloo's innovative techniques have made for a moving, immersive visual experience. 

"You can feel the emulsion in this process of processing with these botanicals," said Hallenbeck. "At the level of the texture of the film itself — not just the images, but the textures that are layered on top of one another — we can think about memory and history and connection and the resurgence of all these layers that occur in our own lives. 

"It's really brilliant." 

Proud of her Taíno herritage 

Spirit Emulsion is centred on the life of Allooloo's mother, Marie-Hélène Laraque, an activist and Taíno Indigenous woman who co-founded one of the first bilingual Indigenous newspaper in North America. She died when Allooloo was a teenager. 

"My mom passed into the spirit world about 22 years ago, and I'm actually working on a feature-length documentary to represent her activism," said Allooloo.

"She was a very important Indigenous activist back in the 1970s with the Red Power movement, both in the United States and in Denendeh."

Allooloo is proud to look back on how her mother advocated for Taíno people in her lifetime, and how that work is still continuing today. 

"Taíno Indigenous people are the people originally of the Caribbean who encountered Columbus," said Allooloo. "My mom was one of the early advocates to assert that Taíno people still exist. 

Siku Allooloo is a writer, artist and poet who grew up in the N.W.T. Her experimental film was developed with plants and medicines from around her childhood home, as well as from the Vancouver area.

"There's a moment now for Taínos across all the Caribbean and also the diaspora to regenerate our culture and traditions and practices. There's a lot of energy there that my mom helped to start back in her day, that's actually flourishing today." 

Allooloo said the experimental, hands-on techniques she used for her short film kept her feeling like it was a spiritual, intimate experience to share her mother's story. 

"This whole process for me in the making of the short was really like an opening prayer for my practice as a filmmaker and my preparation to make this feature-length documentary about her," said Allooloo.

"And it was really beautiful, because she continues to guide me. I feel her presence in a daily way all the time." 


  • This article has been updated to note that Marie-Hélène Laraque co-founded one of the first bilingual Indigenous newspaper in North America.
    Feb 16, 2022 12:33 PM CT

With files from Lawrence Nayally