Native filmmakers are taking back their image and telling their own stories after a century of Hollywood misrepresentations, especially in the Western genre, a Toronto film festival panel heard Friday.
The trend is attributed to the growing self-confidence and hope of younger generations living in native communities, as well as audiences’ desire for authentic stories, say filmmakers.
“Our iconography has been peppered through film since the inception of film so we’ve always associated with film, but have never been truly represented and you’re starting to see a shift in that,” said filmmaker Jeff Barnaby (“The Colony”), who was born and raised on a Mi’gmaq reserve in Canada’s Quebec province.
“We’re undoing a century of misrepresentation,” he told a panel on native films at the Toronto film festival, where he unveiled his newest film “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” starring Nova Scotia Mi’gmaq actor Glen Gould.
“Nobody is going to be the Lone Ranger anymore. They’re going to want to be Glen Gould. Okay maybe not Glen.”
Gould likened the rise of native cinema to a return to tradition.
“Traditionally in our communities, we had storytellers way way back when. When film came around, our stories were dictated by non-native people, so we had Italians playing Indians,” he said, adding that he would like to now play an Italian mafioso in a movie.
“But now we have this wave of aboriginal writers and storytellers.”
Aboriginal activists have long complained that the so-called Hollywood Indian neither mirrors Native American contemporary reality nor their historical past.
Acclaimed Abenaki documentary filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin, who returned to the festival with “Hi-Ho Mistahey,” said audiences are more open to real stories about natives.
“Where we’re going is very different than where we’ve been,” she said, saying the trend is rooted in indigenous peoples discovering their identities.
“When you find your identity… that’s the beginning of a great life and that’s what is happening right now among our people. I see it and I hear it,” she said.
Producer Jennifer Podemski from the Muscowpetung First Nation in Canada’s Saskatchewan province, however, said she fells that natives still have some way to go to break through, after struggling eight years to find financing for her latest film.
“I still feel like we’re banging on the walls in the margin just even to be heard,” said Podemski, whose film “Empire of Dirt” will have its premiere in Toronto this week.
Lone non-native on the panel Peter Stebbings, who directed “Empire of Dirt,” said he tried to make a film about social justice and “characters that we haven’t really seen a whole lot in film.”
“I wanted to get beyond identity politics,” he said, “and tell a story about three amazing women who are informed by the issues that First Nations communities are dealing with in this country, but more importantly are dealing with their own personal issues and they just happened to be native.”
The Toronto film festival, which runs through to September 15, is also showing Australians Ivan Sen’s “Mystery Road” about the investigation of an Aboriginal girl’s murder, and Sarah Spillane’s “Around the Block,” which follows an Aboriginal student struggling with issues of identity.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]