Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival puts young Indigenous filmmakers in the spotlight

Fans of Indigenous films are in for a treat as the annual Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival runs Thursday to Sunday.

16 years ago Coleen Rajotte was inspired to create a showcase for Indigenous filmmakers

Roger Boyer, left, is a self-taught film director. He hopes that Winnipeg becomes a hub for Indigenous filmmakers in North America. (Mike Sudoma)

Fans of Indigenous films are in for a treat as the annual Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival kicks off this week.

Feature films, short films and documentaries will be screened Nov. 23-26 at the Dramatic Arts Theatre in Winnipeg.

The event, founded 16 years ago by filmmaker and former journalist Coleen Rajotte, has created a community for young, upcoming Indigenous filmmakers.

Rajotte, a Sixties Scoop survivor, grew up in Winnipeg watching the news with her family and remembers being inspired by an Indigenous journalist, Jim Compton.

"Back then, I think Jim Compton was the only neechi on the news," said Rajotte.

Neechi is a shortened Anishinaabe term that translates to "friend."

"When I was a kid, I said 'I want to do that. I want to tell stories.'"

Coleen Rajotte is the founder and lead organizer behind the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. The event is in its 16th year. (submitted by Coleen Rajotte)

From journalism to filmmaking

Rajotte went on to get a degree in journalism and ended up becoming one of the first Indigenous female reporters to file for CBC's The National.

Rajotte eventually left the CBC to pursue a career in filmmaking

"What I found as a journalist was that I was telling stories in 90 seconds," she said.

"I would go out and interview people and think 'Wow, I could make a whole film on this person's story.'"

She went to the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco to screen one of her first documentaries. After that, Rajotte asked herself "Why don't we have something here in Winnipeg?"

With a large Indigenous population in Winnipeg, starting a film festival just made sense to Rajotte.

She approached the University of Winnipeg to partner up, put out some flyers, screened six films, and 300 people showed up the first day.

Filmmakers form collective

Roger Boyer has always had a love for storytelling and filmmaking and in 2005 he decided to pick up a camera and give it a shot.

"When I was in university, a cousin of mine had bought a videocamera. I discovered Windows Movie Maker, and that's when I had an idea to make a short film," said Boyer.

Filmmaker Roger Boyer at the LA Skins Film Festival. (Colleen Berra)

The following year, Boyer decided to drop school to pursue a career in film. He graduated from the National Screen Institute's New Voices training course in 2007 and went on to direct and produce a short film called Rentless.

"Someone that was in the film community saw it and from there I started getting involved more and more," he said.

Boyer is part of Winnipeg's Aboriginal Filmmakers Collective, which has been meeting regularly for the past three years to watch films, network and support anyone trying to get involved in the filmmaking industry in Manitoba.

"[It's] for people like me who didn't know where to start or where to begin, that was the whole purpose of the group, to help grow the film community," said Boyer.

The filmmaker has helped to curate Manitoba Filmmakers Night on Sunday at the festival, which will feature many short films made by Indigenous folks in Manitoba. Selections include Urban Sasquatch, Moccasin Stories and The Secrets Behind the Bignell Bridge.

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1