TIFF 2021, Day 5: Celebrate Alanis Obomsawin

The festival celebrates 50 years of work from the revered documentary filmmaker with a free retrospective

Alanis Obomsawin
Scott Stevens

So I understand the premiere of The Eyes Of Tammy Faye went pretty well last night – and I’m not surprised. It’s a good movie built around a truly transcendent performance from Jessica Chastain, who turns a pop-culture punching bag into a fully considered human being. It’s hitting TIFF’s digital platform at 5 pm today, and screening again tonight at the Visa Skyline drive-in at Ontario Place, and it’s opening in theatres this Friday, so there’ll be plenty of time to talk about it in the coming weeks.

Today, though, let’s talk about Alanis Obomsawin.

To mark 50 years of the revered documentarian’s work, TIFF and the National Film Board have curated a massive free retrospective: Celebrating Alanis Obomsawin collects dozens of Obomsawin’s features and shorts into three streams, each with two programs: The Dignity Of Children, Lighting The Fire and Portraits. All six will be made available for free on TIFF’s digital platform over the rest of the festival, starting today with The Dignity Of Children: Programme 1 at 3 pm.

It’s reductive to call Obomsawin one of the most important documentary filmmakers of her time, but it’s also true: on the specific subject of Canada’s relationship to Indigenous people – and vice versa – there is no one else who’s told that story as consistently, as clearly and as passionately. She lets her subjects tell their own stories, in their own words, while still shaping her work to make sure there’s no doubt about where she stands on a given issue. Even some of her titles tell you how she feels: Kanehsatake: 270 Years Of Resistance, Our People Will Be Healed, We Can’t Make The Same Mistake Twice. (That last film, a nearly three-hour record of a court case brought against the federal government on behalf of First Nations children, isn’t included in the retrospective, but you can stream it free at the NFB’s website.)

If you only have time for one, I’d recommend The Dignity Of Children: Programme 2 (in-person Tuesday, 1 pm, TIFF Bell Lightbox 1; available digitally Tuesday at 3 pm), which includes both Obomsawin’s first directorial credit, the residential-school documentary short Christmas At Moose Factory, and her latest, Honour To Senator Murray Sinclair, which intercuts a moving speech by the former chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission with testimonials from former students of those residential schools – neatly demonstrating where Obomsawin’s heart has been throughout her entire career. But really? Make more time.

Also screening today

I wrote briefly about Apitchapong Weerasethakul’s Memoria (4 pm, Cinesphere) in our buzz list, and can’t imagine a better venue for one of his dreamlike, enveloping films than the world’s largest IMAX screen – even if it’ll be preceded by that disclaimer that you’re not seeing the film in true IMAX. (Whatever. The IMAX room at Yonge and Dundas isn’t true IMAX either, we all accept these little compromises.) And I wrote about Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man (7:30 pm, Scotiabank 2, available digitally tomorrow at 5 pm; rating: NNNN) in our genre lookahead, it’s a gentle, philosophical sci-fi comedy built around a marvellous, self-aware turn from Dan Stevens as a German companion robot custom-built for Maren Eggert’s skeptical researcher. (Toni Erdmann’s Sandra Hüller is around as well.)

New segment: Awards buzz!

It’s getting to be that time where people expect us to predict things. I will say only that you should like what you like, but also that The Eyes Of Tammy Faye feels like a sure thing this year. I wouldn’t bet against Rob Savage’s full-bore found-footage DASHCAM (rating: NNNN) winning the Midnight Madness award, either. And I’m really excited to see The Rescue, which is building momentum among people whose opinions I trust.

What to see tomorrow

Produced for a new HBO music-doc series, Alison Klayman’s Jagged offers a look at the phenomenon of Alanis Morissette’s breakout album; it’s likely to be a major festival event, and NOW Editor Kevin Ritchie will have more to say about that in tomorrow’s dispatch. And fans of wild, intricate horror won’t want to miss their only chance to see the first three episodes of Train To Busan creator Yeon Sang-ho’s upcoming Netflix miniseries Hellbound (rating: NNNN) – a mash-up of Cure, The Ring and Drag Me To Hell – at the Cinesphere. And after months of teasing, we finally get to see Official Competition, Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat’s industry satire starring Penélope Cruz as a filmmaker trying to wrestle performances out of two very different, very difficult actors played by Oscar Martinez and Antonio Banderas.


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