Devery Jacobs in The Sun At Midnight
IMAGINENATIVE FILM + MEDIA ARTS FESTIVAL October 19 through October 23 at various locations. imaginenative.org. See listings.
ImagineNative has terrific timing.
The annual festival of Indigenous cinema has always played in the middle of October, but this year’s edition arrives as Toronto faces off against Cleveland in the American League championship series – and our fans and media are forced once again to confront the racist origins of the name of Cleveland’s team.
I wish I could believe Major League Baseball feels conflicted, but like every other commercial sporting body faced with a similar situation, they’re just avoiding the conversation and letting the team owners stammer about tradition while kicking the can down the road. They won’t change the name until it’s financially necessary – or until the current owners die and their more progressive-minded kids realize it’s better for everyone. (Besides, as Rachel Mack pointed out on Twitter last week, the Cleveland Rocks would be a perfect name for a sports team.)
Eventually, things will change. Representation and visibility will bring people around. And that’s where ImagineNative comes in, offering a showcase of Indigenous cinema on whatever terms the actors, writers and directors choose for themselves.
Some of the features and documentaries go straight to the heart of the Indigenous experience, like Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk, which opens the festival at the Hot Docs Cinema. A documentary about opposition to the traditional Inuit seal hunt, the film pushes back against conventional (white) thinking by reframing the issue from the perspective of a people for whom seals mean survival. It’s as simple as that – and, of course, it’s not simple at all.
Angry Inuk isn’t the only documentary that stands as a work of activism as well as education. Alanis Obomsawin’s We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice (October 22, 10 am, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1), which premiered at TIFF last month, demands to be considered as a historical document, devoted as it is to chronicling Cindy Blackstock and other First Nations activists’ landmark discrimination complaint over the inadequacy of federal funding for Indigenous children that became a federal human rights case.
Compressing eight years of hearings and legal manoeuvring into under three hours, Obomsawin unpacks the structural nightmare that is the state of Canada’s Indigenous support system – a bureaucratic maze built on indifference and outright apathy. It’s a tough watch, and will likely be even tougher on a Saturday morning, but if this year has produced a more important Canadian documentary, I haven’t seen it.
Not all of ImagineNative’s programming is as overtly political, mind you. Plenty of Indigenous filmmakers want to tell stories about people rather than issues; some of them even manage to bake the issues into their stories.
Kirsten Carthew’s The Sun At Midnight (October 23, 1 pm, TIFF 1) features Devery Jacobs – the breakout star of Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes For Young Ghouls – as a hot-headed Montreal teen sent to Fort McPherson after her mother’s death. Unwilling to adjust, she soon runs off to the wilds of the Northwest Territories, where she befriends an aged caribou hunter (Duane Howard).
It’s an archetypal coming-of-age story that actually incorporates archetypes, which gives the movie an additional layer of commentary. Ian MacDougall’s beautiful visuals and Jacobs’s heartfelt performance are just the icing on the cake.
Jacobs is also at the festival as the co-star of The Land Of Rock And Gold (October 20, noon, TIFF 3) and as the director, producer and screenwriter of the short film Stolen, which screens in the Femme Totale program (October 22, 2:30 pm, TIFF 1).
The closing night gala, Bonfire (October 23, 7 pm, TIFF 1), is a low-boil thriller about a cycle of revenge in a remote Siberian village. It’s all about people trapped by tradition, but the story is simple enough that it could be set in any culture at virtually any point in human history.
That’s how you get an audience to relate to your characters and invest in your story. Show them a world they’ve never seen and lead them to understand it. Empathy is a hell of a thing; get enough of it out there and you can change the world. And maybe even the name of a Cleveland baseball team.