TIFF 2018: CBC Indigenous lists 6 films to watch

The Toronto International Film Festival begins next week and CBC Indigenous has compiled a list of must-watch films screening at the festival that feature Indigenous talent from across the country.

The first film in Haida and a true story from the North screen at this year's festival

Edge of the Knife is the first feature film to be made in two dialects of the endangered Haida language. (TIFF)

The Toronto International Film Festival begins next week and CBC Indigenous has compiled a list of must-watch films screening at the festival that feature Indigenous talent from across the country (including multiple appearances from Tantoo Cardinal).

This year Cree-Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet will be the Canadian features programmer. Her films have appeared in festivals across the globe and this year she was invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences alongside 982 other individuals from a diverse set of backgrounds and countries. 

Edge of the Knife

Edge of the Knife, directed by Gwaai Edenshaw and Helen Haig-Brown, is the first feature film made in two dialects of the endangered Haida language. The film was made in collaboration with Isuma, the team behind Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. 

Set in the 19th century on the island of Haida Gwaii, a man is forced to retreat into the wilderness after an accident. He then becomes gaagiixiid/gaagiid or a wildman. The title is rooted in the Haida saying "The world is as sharp as the edge of a knife; as you go along, you have to be careful or you will fall off one side or the other."

This is Edenshaw's debut as a co-director of a feature film with Haig-Brown, an award winning Tsilhqot'in filmmaker. Her past films include My Legacy (2014), ?E?ANX (The Cave) (2011) and Su naa (My Big Brother) (2005).

Through Black Spruce

Through Black Spruce is the film adaptation of the novel by controversial author Joseph BoydenThe story follows the journey of Annie Bird, played by Tanaya Beatty, as she travels from her community in Moosonee, Ont., to Toronto in a search for her sister who has been missing for over a year. 

The film features a rich cast of Indigenous talent including Graham Greene, Tantoo Cardinal and Brandon Oakes. It's produced by Tina Keeper.

Directed by Don McKellar, the film explores the deep-seated pain of losing a family member and how that reverberates through bloodlines, a reality all too true for many Indigenous families in Canada. 

Falls Around Her

Falls Around Her stars Métis actress Tantoo Cardinal as an Anishinaabe musician from Northern Ontario who returns home after years on the road. (TIFF)

A renowned Anishinaabe musician returns to her Northern Ontario community, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek First Nation, to reconnect with the land. Tantoo Cardinal stars as Mary, who finds that leaving fame behind is easier said than done. Tina Keeper plays Mary's sister, Betty, who suspects that things aren't as simple as they seem with the return of her sibling.

Darlene Naponse writes and directs the piece that tells a harrowing tale of resilience. Naponse, born in Atikameksheng Anishnawbek, is known for the short films Retrace (2002) and She is Water (2010) and the features Cradlesong (2003) and Every Emotion Costs (2010).

The Grizzlies

Based on the true story of how the youth in an Inuit community gained pride and a sense of identity through the sport of lacrosse, The Grizzlies world premiere will be happening at TIFF '18. Teacher Russ Sheppard (played by Ben Schnetzer) moves to Kugluktuk, Nunavut, which is struggling with one of the highest rates of suicide in North America. Through commitment and determination, Sheppard introduces the youth to the sport and they form the Grizzlies lacrosse team. Tantoo Cardinal also stars.

Stacey Aglok Macdonald, one of the film's producers, is from Kugluktuk and witnessed the impact the team had on the community. She previously directed a short film Throat Song (2013) and The Grizzlies (2018) is her feature directorial debut. The film is directed by Toronto-born Miranda de Pencier, who has produced Beginners (2010) and Thanks for Sharing (2012). 


Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes)

From director Amanda Strong comes Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes) a stop-animated short film that tells the story of Biidaaban and Sabe, a 10,000 year-old shapeshifter, as they look to reclaim the ceremonial harvesting of maple sap in suburban Ontario. (TIFF)

This stop-animated piece from director Amanda Strong has taken two years to complete. The story takes place within the suburban neighbourhoods of Toronto. The main character, Biidaaban, is accompanied by a shape-shifting being named Sabe. Together the two of them traverse through urban Toronto looking to harvest maple sugar from trees.

Emptying The Tank

In her latest short documentary, director Caroline Monnet celebrates the physical and spiritual strength of athletes through Chippewa mixed martial artist Ashley Nichols. Monnet is known for her documentary shorts including Warchild (2010) and Tshiuetin (2016).


Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences.