Falls Around Her director talks about sharing Indigenous stories 'through our own voices'
Darlene's Naponse's film about a music star who returns to her home community explores themes of ownership
Darlene Naponse's film Falls Around Her, screening at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, speaks to the shift in representation of Indigenous people in the film industry.
Shot in Naponse's home community, Atikmeksheng Anishnawbek First Nation near Sudbury, the film tells the story of an Anishinaabe musician, played by Tantoo Cardinal, who returns home to reconnect with the land and her community.
The film had its world premiere at TIFF over the weekend.
"The film deals with a lot of issues, mostly about ownership and the idea that people think they own you," said Naponse.
Cardinal's character Mary Birchbark returns home to get away from the spotlight and her controlling manager. The idea of ownership is also reflected within the film as a struggle around natural resource extraction, an issue of contention for Indigenous communities across the world.
A mine near the community has been leaking arsenic into the water supply, and in a scene about halfway through the film, Birchbark joins a protest.
"Walking the land and being back on the community — there's a real strength in that and you find new things about yourself," said Naponse.
As Birchbark reconnects with the land and learns more about herself, there are moments that portray aspects of Indigenous life, from the casual use of Anishinaabemowin to the collecting and use of natural medicines.
"I think it's important to reflect the naturalism of our lifestyles and not overtly explain who we are and what we do," said Naponse.
"Let us show you the love and the beauty of our community; let us share it through our own world view and through our own voices, our own languages."
1st leading role for veteran actor
Tantoo Cardinal, one of the most recognizable Indigenous actors in the industry, plays the lead role of Mary Birchbark.
Despite having appeared in more than a hundred films since the 1970s, this is the first time that Cardinal's name appears at the top of the credits in a leading role.
Cardinal said she has seen the representation of Indigenous characters in film change through the last 40 years.
"Our characters are more complex and I think we're getting wider audiences now," said Cardinal.
She is appearing in three films at TIFF this year, including Through Black Spruce and The Grizzlies.
"Any number of these films could have been done in the past, say in the '80s or in the '90s, and they would not have the high quotient of Indigenous filmmakers' involvement," she said.
"There's all this opportunity to start switching around some of the misnomers we've been walking around with on our shoulders. I think we're in good shape for now."