Horror movies and home invasions: What emerging Kanien'kehá:ka filmmakers are focusing their lens on

Held as part of the Montreal First Peoples Festival, the Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema conference took place in Kahnawake on Monday.

'The most important thing as Indigenous filmmakers is that we’re making films for us, by us'

Kahnawake filmmakers (left to right) Gage Diabo, Brent Horne, Kaniehtiio Horn, Tharonhianente Barnes and Raohseraha:wi Hemlock, at the Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema conference on Monday. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

When Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) actress Kaniehtiio Horn wrote her first feature film, she didn't intend to invoke a message of Indigenous food sovereignty. She just wanted to write about a home invasion.

"I just want to do a movie where I can just wear sweatpants, be in one location and cut guys' heads off," said Horn, who is from Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

Speaking at the eighth edition of the Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema conference in Kahnawake on Monday, Horn talked about her new film Seeds — a home invasion film with an Indigenous twist.

Funded by Telefilm Canada and produced in association with the Indigenous Screen Office, the film is about a 30-something social media sensation who lands the biggest corporate gig of her life promoting genetically modified seeds. Called back to her community, she is forced to reconnect to her roots in a battle to save her people's legacy.

"I wasn't setting out to write this super Onkwehón:we/Indigenous movie, but because I was born and raised here and am an Onkwehón:we person, all of this meaning and ideas happened because that's what I know," said Horn.

Horn said she felt like a lot of people were expecting her to make a film about her experience during the Oka Crisis — the 78-day standoff that began on July 11, 1990, between the Kanien'kehà:ka community of Kanesatake, the Sûréte du Québec provincial police and, later, the Canadian military over a contested area of land known as the Pines northwest of Montreal.

Horn, however, had other ideas.

"I wanted to make something fun," she said.

"I didn't set out this food sovereignty and seed-keeping message when I started writing the film but it evolves to that and I think is a great example of what it means to be an Indigenous artist."

Held as part of Montreal First Peoples Festival, the Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema conference aims to build bridges between academia and the world of Indigenous film and media.

Leo Koziol is the founder and director of the the Wairoa Māori Film Festival in New Zealand. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

"The most important thing as Indigenous filmmakers is that we're making films for us, by us," said Leo Koziol, who founded the Wairoa Māori Film Festival in New Zealand. 

Koziol was one of the many Indigenous filmmakers from around the world to participate in the conference, which is co-organized by Queen's University, Terres en vues and the Kanien'kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center. 

"It's so important that we share our experiences, talk about the challenges that we have faced and the solutions we have found in our communities," said Marion Konwanénhon Delaronde, artistic director for the the cultural centre's children's program Tóta tánon Ohkwá:ri.

Community loves horror films

Delaronde is also the director of the Eastern Connection Film Festival, which just held its ninth edition on Sunday featuring work by eight Kanien'kehá:ka filmmakers.

She said the first year, she learned she wasn't the only fan of filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Stanley Kubrick in her community.

"What we got that first year was a bloodbath," said Delaronde.

Marion Konwanénhon Delaronde is the artistic director at the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Center. (Ka’nhehsí:io Deer/CBC)

Tharonhianente Barnes is one of the local filmmakers to submit to the festival every year — usually horror flicks based on legends he heard growing up.

"Our Kahnawake legends are not like Goldilocks," said Barnes.

"There's always some kind of terrible supernatural that happens to a character. Then it's like 'See, this is why you don't walk at night' kind of lessons."

Brent Horne is also an independent filmmaker in Kahnawake who regularly submits his work to the festival and is also a fan of horror genres. He talked about the expectations Indigenous filmmakers face to produce certain types of content.

"Even when the movie is not at all Indigenous content, it's still Indigenous because I'm making it," said Horne. 

"They're going to want a documentary that talks about the Oka Crisis, they're going to want a documentary that talks about residential schools but deep down inside of the DNA of our films, it's already there because we inherited that. It's a part of our culture."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is a Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.