Indigenous

5 top picks: Winnipeg's Aboriginal Film Fest packed with fire

The indigenous cinema genre is about 40 years old, but in recent years indigenous films have exploded into mainstream venues such as the coveted Toronto International Film Festival. Fire Song, showing at this week's Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival, is one of those films.

Magnitude of indigenous films and emergence of talented filmmakers is clear at festivals like WAFF

In A Right to Eat, filmmaker Janelle Wookey takes us through a northern Manitoba community where the cost of food is so high many people — including children — go hungry. (Janelle Wookey)

The indigenous cinema genre is about 40 years old, but in recent years it has exploded into the mainstream.

Fire Song, showing at this week's Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival, is one of those films. It debuted earlier this year at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival.

The magnitude of films and emergence of talented filmmakers is clear at festivals like WAFF.

The third largest festival in North America devoted to indigenous film and video starts today and runs until Sunday, November 22.

Here are some flicks you don't want to miss.

Fire Song

Fire Song is a powerful and compelling story set in an indigenous community in Ontario. It is the creation of Cree-Metis director Adam Garnet Jones and is one of the first films to cover two-spirited issues by an indigenous director of Canada — an issue close to Garnet Jones' heart.

"It's just a composite of what I've known and heard over and over again. I didn't grow up on reserve, but I'm gay and as a teenager I felt the same type of fear and isolation that the characters in the film do," Garnet Jones said from his home in Toronto.

At the crux of the film is the struggle to either stay or leave an indigenous community, and the complexities on each side. But the main character Shane, is still reeling from the suicide of his sister. That subject of suicide crept off screen and into real life during production.

The film is dedicated to Kieran McArthur, the teenage son of film's makeup artist who died by suicide during production.

"It felt like a full life time. There were things that were wonderful, joyous and beautiful and things that were heartbreaking, that tore us apart and almost stopped us from finishing the film."

Fire Song tackles hard issues with intelligence, sensitivity and bravery through a talented all-indigenous cast.

7:30 p.m., Friday, Bandwidth Theatre, 585 Ellice Avenue.

Le Dep

Le Dep is an edgy psychological film about an Innu woman held up at gunpoint at her family's dépanneur (convenience store). Mohawk Québécois director Sonia Boileau said she shot the film entirely in one location where the robbery unfolds. The traumatic experience is intensified when the victim discovers she knows the assailant.

Boileau's pride in the film lies in its technical elements, but also in her choice of character.

"I wanted a strong female lead in the story. For her to take control of what was going on, to hold the plot power in her hands," Boileau said.

Le Dep is an edgy psychological film about an Innu woman (played by Eve Ringuette) held up at gunpoint at her family’s dépanneur. ( K-Films Amerique)
Lydia (Eve Ringuette) has a rich but negative backstory that she overcomes, and that shapes her strong character.

Boileau doesn't shy away from addressing tough issues like drug addiction and violence in indigenous country.

Boileau wanted to make a film showcasing talented indigenous actors telling universal truths that everyone could relate to. The three main actors -- Ringuette, Buckell-Robertson and Marco Collin are Innu.

3:00 p.m., Friday, Bandwidth Theatre.

A Right to Eat

A Right to Eat is an intelligent, thought provoking and beautiful documentary by Manitoba born Franco-Métis filmmakers Janelle and Jeremie Wookey. The film takes us through a northern Manitoba community where the cost of food is so high many people — including children — go hungry.

The film includes a startling reality check on the host of diseases caused by food insecurity — malnutrition, obesity and diabetes. In a scene in a classroom a teacher asks how many students have relatives that have lost a leg due to diabetes. About half put up their hands.

Food insecurity haunts community members, but there is hope through looking at the work of Elders and community members who garden, fish, gather, hunt and raise animals; reclaiming pride and health in the community.

3:00 p.m., Saturday, Bandwidth Theatre.

Mekko

Mekko is the film everybody is talking about. It's a dark thriller about a man released from prison after 19 years. On the shadowy streets of Tulsa Oklahoma, Mekko encounters a man characterized as pure evil. By tapping into his traditional teachings, Mekko works to get rid of the 'witch.' In an interview with CBC's Unreserved host, Rosanna Deerchild, filmmaker Sterlin Harjo talks about socio-economic struggles, pain and the beauty of indigenous communities and of the streets.

5p.m., Sunday, Bandwidth Theatre.

White Lies

White Lies is based on the novel, Medicine Woman, written by one of the most prominent Māori writers alive — Whale Rider author Witi Ihimaera. It is the first feature film of Mexican writer-director Dana Rotberg.

Submitted for a foreign-language Oscar, the film explores indigenous culture and racial identity after the ravages of colonization in New Zealand. It tells the story of a medicine woman, caring for people in secrecy, and the decision to keep a secret that could save one life and destroy another.

3:00 p.m., Sunday, Bandwidth Theatre

About the Author

Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is a journalist from the Gitxsan Nation. Sterritt's news and current affairs pieces are featured on national and local CBC platforms. Her CBC column 'Reconcile This' tackles the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in B.C.