Indigenous

National Canadian Film Day puts spotlight on emerging and established Indigenous filmmakers

National Canadian Film Day takes place on April 20 with online and in-person film screenings and special events.

Film screenings and streaming happening April 20

Heiltsuk/Mohawk writer/director Zoe Hopkins's film Run Woman Run won the audience choice feature film award at last year's ImagineNATIVE festival. (Zoe Hopkins)

Today marks Reel Canada's National Canadian Film Day, and this year, the spotlight is on Indigenous filmmakers with the launch of the Celebrating Indigenous Voices program.

The program, presented in association with the ImagineNATIVE film and media arts festival, is spotlighting 34 films Wednesday with in-person screenings across the country and links to streaming sites.

"It's important for the works of Indigenous filmmakers to be celebrated because we are living in a time of reckoning and truth telling," said Heiltsuk/Mohawk writer and film director Zoe Hopkins.

Hopkins's film Run Woman Run is one of the spotlight features of the Celebrating Indigenous Voices program. 

The film is about a single mother who decides to run a marathon to prove to herself and her community that she's able to get back on track. 

It won the audience choice feature film award and moon jury prize at ImagineNATIVE last fall.

"People are always surprised that my film that deals with some difficult topics is also funny and heartwarming," she said. 

"I think that's because we haven't seen enough of our stories or enough different kinds of our stories on big platforms yet, and people still have a narrow view of who we are."

Freelance Inuk journalist Ossie Michelin recently dove into filmmaking with Evan's Drum. It tells the story of a boy and his mother in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L., as they reclaim the practice of traditional Inuit drumming. 

Michelin said he was working with the Labrador Residential School Healing and Commemoration Project travelling to communities across Labrador speaking to survivors when Amy Winters was drum dancing during a community feast. 

"[Amy's son] Evan ran up to the front of the room with Amy and whispered something in her ear," said Michelin.

"Then Amy asked, 'Is it OK if my little boy drums too?' And everyone in the room said yes, of course. Evan wasn't even five yet and the drum was bigger than him."

He said when he saw how happy and proud they were drum dancing and how that same pride was reflected by the community he knew this was something to share.

"I am so excited for Labrador youth to grow up with this film and see themselves and their home reflected in it," Michelin said. 

"I hope it will inspire them to drum."

Evan's Drum is available to stream through the National Film Board.

Evan and his mother, Amy, play their new drums together at the fire break in North West River, N.L., in Ossie Michelin's film Evan's Drum. (National Film Board)

Michelin is now working with Abenaki filmmaker Kim O'Bomsawin to co-direct the Inuit scenes for a CBC/Radio Canada docu-series Telling Our Story/Laissez Nous Raconter about the First Peoples of Quebec. It is expected to be premiering at the end of this year.

Jesse Wente, co-executive director for the Indigenous Screen Office, said this is a year when Indigenous filmmakers should be highlighted.

"The success of films like Night Raiders and Wildhood are testaments to the importance of Indigenous narrative sovereignty," he said.

Both films were recently honoured at the Canadian Screen Awards.

"Audiences are hungry for our stories and we have the talent and resources to finally tell them," he said.

Where to watch

The Celebrating Indigenous Voices Program features 34 pieces of Indigenous cinema with screenings across the country and links to streams.

There are also educational Indigenous films available at the website, including Mobilize and Stories from Our Land.

The National Film Board provides free access to stream films like Birth of a Family, Foster Child and Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with the Indigenous unit since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences throughout Ontario. You can reach her at rhiannon.johnson@cbc.ca and on Twitter @rhijhnsn.

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