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TIFF highlights three Indigenous films

There is no release date for Blood Quantum as of yet. However, the movie was showcased to the audience at TIFF on September 5 as part of Midnight Madness. (Courtesy Brigitte Hurley)

From Thursday September 5 to the 15th, three Indigenous films will be showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to highlight important issues and historic events that occured in Indigenous communities. 

Jeff Barnaby, director of Blood Quantum, came up with his idea 12 years ago as a way to teach people outside of Indigenous communities about Indigenous history and a different way of life. 

“I wanted to educate non-Native people, settlers, and colonizers about our history,” Barnaby said. “Nobody seems to remember that it was settlers who introduced the concept of race to North America.”

Blood Quantum was also written by Barnaby. The movie reveals the effects of a zombie outbreak on a First Nations reserve where the residents are immune to the plague. However, they must deal with certain obstacles, including helping refugees looking for shelter in their community. The entire film was shot in Montreal, Kahnawake Mohawk Territory and Listiguj Mi’kmaq Territory. 

The main challenge in creating this film was mostly financial. “It was a matter of money,” he said. “It was the biggest film that I handled. I was told that nobody was going to give me that amount of money. I needed to prove to myself that I could do a film that could handle that budget.”

Along with having a budget-conscious mindset, Barnaby said the weather and scheduling conflicts were also challenges he had to overcome. 

“A lot of the times, we didn’t get a chance to talk with the actors,” he said. “The first time we would talk about the scenes was when we were shooting. It became quite exhausting by the end of it.”

Nevertheless, Barnaby is incredibly ecstatic about the process more than the finished product. “I’m happy we survived it,” he said. “I’m happy we got the experience because it really tested who you are as a person emotionally, spiritually, physically, and mentally. I think it was hard on everybody because everybody gave their all and they know it was a once-in-a-lifetime film. It’s the first-ever Native zombie film.” 

Barnaby wants everyone in Kahnawake to know they should never let go of their dreams and aspirations in life, especially since Barnaby was able to accomplish his own goals. 

“It’s pretty surreal when you grow up watching zombie movies and fall in love with them, that one day you get the chance to make one of your own,” he said. “You want to inspire them to give it your all. You will get the opportunity to live out your dreams. This movie is a dream come true for me.”

The film Jordan River Anderson will be presented on September 10 at 6 p.m. at TIF
(Courtesy Nadine Viau)

Alanis Obomsawin’s latest film Jordan River Anderson talks about the story of Jordan River Anderson and how his death incited a rise in better healthcare for everyone in this land. 

Although Jordan’s Principle was passed into law by the House of Commons and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, still many Indigenous patients do not have proper access to healthcare services. 

“I’ve been working on and off on this film since 2011,” said Obomsawin. “It has to do with the rights and education of Indigenous children who are in special needs. The film documents the long legal fight against injustice in the healthcare system towards Indigenous children. 

The biggest challenge of this film was to get access to the courthouse, said Obomsawin. “It was a court case that went on for a few years and to get permission to film in the courtroom was a challenge all on its own,” she said.

Obomsawin hopes that people will learn determination against any form of injustice towards Indigenous communities. 

“The message is if you fight long enough and if you believe in something and you go to the end, you will win,” she said. “If you give up because it’s very difficult and there are things that can stop you from wanting to continue, you get discouraged, then it won’t happen. The beauty of this documentary is that we all fought for the changes and we won.”

Kuessipan will be presented at TIFF on September 8 at 9:15 p.m. The film will be officially released on October 4. (Courtesy Judith Dubeau)

The final film to be presented at TIFF is entitled Kuessipan, which is a movie loosely based on the book of the same name. The film was directed by Myriam Verreault, a non-Indigenous women who worked with the community of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam for the past seven years. 

“The story found in the film is inspired by Naomi Fontaine’s life,” she said, referring to the author of the book. Verrault worked with Fontaine to take some elements from the book and create a new story about two girls who grow up together in the community, but who have different destinies.

The filmmaker explained she wanted to work with the community to accurately depict their life, culture and history since she is originally not part of that environment. 

“At first, I wanted to make a film with people over there, but since I’m not Indigenous, I needed to have their collaboration to find a story that will touch us all,” Verreault said. 

“I really wanted this story to be one that is created by the people from that community instead of me. I have never lived in the community so I wanted the film to be authentic. It was a good challenge because it allowed me to meet people with whom I was attached and share the pride to share this film.”

Verrault said the perk of working with Indigenous communities was to be able to connect with them deeper than on a superficial level. 

“When we are in a project for so long, we attach ourselves to the people in that community,” she said. “I wanted to make a film on Indigenous people but with Indigenous people. It’s important to make that distinction. I see them as my friends.”

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