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ImagineNATIVE's Oscar accreditation creates direct link with Indigenous filmmakers

Last year was a big one for the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival — on the year of their 20th anniversary, it became the first Indigenous film festival that can qualify a film for Oscar consideration.
Jason Ryle, the executive director of ImagineNATIVE, says the Oscar accreditation could help more Indigenous actors and filmmakers win the prestigious award. (Bliss Bondy)
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Last year was a big one for the ImagineNATIVE Film Festival — on the year of their 20th anniversary, it became the first Indigenous film festival that can qualify a film for Oscar consideration.

For Jason Ryle, the executive director of ImagineNATIVE, the news was huge.

"There were a lot of emotions, I can't lie," Ryle said. "It was incredibly exciting."

The Oscar accreditation certainly gives the festival itself a bit more notoriety, but Ryle is more excited for those who submit to the festival.

"It also felt very hopeful that more attention from the larger industry will be paid to Indigenous filmmakers," he said.

As an Oscar-accredited festival, winning an ImagineNATIVE award could mean automatic consideration for the Oscar shortlist. It's a more direct line for Indigenous filmmakers to have their films considered by the Academy. 

Ryle said the Academy has taken steps to "diversify their ranks," adding legendary Indigenous filmmakers like Zacharias Kunuk and Alanis Obomsawin as Academy members.

Both are steps in the right direction of Ryle's next goal: to have an Indigenous filmmaker win an Oscar.

To date, Buffy Sainte-Marie is the only Indigenous person to be nominated for and win an Oscar. In 2019, Wes Studi received an honorary award for his acting work.

Ryle expects that within the next decade, another Indigenous person will win an Oscar. Maori filmmaker Taika Waititi is up for two Oscars this year, but even if he doesn't win, Ryle said the future is bright for Indigenous filmmakers and actors.

"We're going to be hearing Indigenous people in control of stories that they're telling from within their communities representing their nations [and] brought to global audiences," he said.

"I can't think of anything more exciting than that."