Arts & Culture City

FIN: Giving Voice to Indigenous Experience

Indigenous issues and representation were tackled in many films at this year’s Atlantic International Film Festival and Michael Trombetta had the chance to review three of them.

The Atlantic International Film Festival had a wide-ranging multiplicity of voices through independent filmmakers this year. Here are three sensitive films that gave viewers honest and sometimes harsh perspectives of the Indigenous experience.

There are No Fakes is an investigative documentary that journeys into the corrupt underground art-world surrounding Canadian indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau. The conception of the film was sparked by burgeoning suspicions towards the authenticity of a work purchased by musician and art collector Kevin Hearn of the Bare-naked Ladies, as critics and curators rendered his purchase a fraud and consequently worthless. 

Morrisseau’s art contains bright vivid colours, definitive dark lines rendering the shapes of his subjects, and a visionary imagination that merges indigenous mythology with Roman-Catholic symbols, biomorphic life forms with humans, and consciousness with nature. It is the two-dimensional representation and simplicity of colours that Morrisseau used that allowed many of his supposed forgeries to be convincingly recreated, but his contemporaries claim that there are evident differences between an authentic piece and a forgery.

Documentary filmmaker Jamie Kastner leads the viewer through thoroughly researched history, interviews with folks of the most polarized perspectives, and through a vast Canadian landscape in which the collateral damage proves far-reaching. Diving deep within the rabbit hole, the film lucidly unravels a tragic past of abuse and exploitation towards marginalized native people in Northern Ontario that sustained the concealed ring of Morrisseau forgeries. 

This careful, sensitive portrayal of Indigenous perspectives captivates viewers with a microcosm of the oppression within Canada, and begins the healing process for the many affected within the film. Uniting their voices, those who love Morrisseau each contribute to revealing their truth and honouring the spirit of the passed artist.  

There’s Something in the Water is also an investigative documentary that aims to reveal the systematic and environmental racism experienced by marginalized identities within Nova Scotia, through targeting the blatant disregard of unlivable conditions within their communities by corrupt political decision-makers.

Based on the book of the same name by Professor Ingrid Waldron, Ellen Page’s directorial debut takes a minimalist approach to her own presence in the film, instead putting individuals of marginalized communities within the foreground. Using interviews with quaint, intelligent folks and footage of their local landscapes, the film takes the viewer on a tour of their borderline-wasteland living environments and why these conditions remain unchanged. 

Page documents three communities directly affected by unsafe waste practices, the water within the African-Canadian populations of Shelburne, and the waters at Boat Harbor and Shubenacadie River that sustains the local Mi’kmaw and First Nations people. The landscapes appear post-apocalyptic at times. Each of the women represented voice their experiences of how their once undisturbed, self-sustained lands became overpowered by the force of corporate greed. The common denomination of their experience illuminates the injustice and subjugation of their lived realities. 

The timeliness and impact of this film proved to be vital by the sellout crowds of two massive Park Lane theatres, as global calls for environmental protest and action become louder and louder. 

Blood Quantum is a satirical zombie-thriller by Indigenous filmmaker Jeff Barnaby and cast entirely by Indigenous actors. The film centers around two zombie outbreaks within a First Nations reserve shot in a remote Mi’kmaq community, and depicts the survival of the Indigenous people- the only race immune to the virus.  

Sometimes ironic but always in-your-face, the film uses raw, visceral dialogue and violence that paints vivid portraits of the personalities within the story. Through staging his underrepresented First Nations people within an established sub-genre, Barnaby makes a strong statement about the visibility of Indigenous identities in Canadian popular culture. 

The film subtly develops the identities and reality of life upon a First Nations reserve, as he casts a group of fresh actors, some of which being their first role ever. The vulgar rawness of the dialogue occupies the foreground of the film (which may have contained more F-bombs than an entire season of Trailer Park Boys). Yet there was a subtle irony I enjoyed in the nonchalant crudeness paired with the urgency of the undead apocalypse; which I think was an authentic portrayal of how many common First Nations men casually interact with each other. Family-oriented, yet troubled and struggling, the characters portray a people with a pained past into their performances. 

Although at times the film feels a little underworked and rushed, authentic performances of the First Nations lifestyle within a timeworn genre makes an important point about the representation of First Nations peoples within the film industry and breathes a little creative life into the stale zombie genre.

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