Celebrating Indigenous film at Celebration of Nations

The Performing Arts Centre lit up with Indigenous culture this past weekend as the annual Celebration of Nations main gathering occurred. In between the traditional music, performances and workshops, attendees could sit back and relax with the various featured films. The movies all sought to showcase pieces of Indigenous culture.

On both Sep. 7 and Sep. 8, there were showings of Brock University Chancellor Shirley Cheechoo’s 2003 documentary Pikutiskaau (Mother Earth).

Preceding the feature presentation were short films created by students of the Weengushk Film Institute (WFI). The WFI is a non-profit film and television training centre for Indigenous youth that works in partnership with Brock University. The institute operates with an emphasis placed on art and creativity, with hopes of getting more Indigenous narratives into the world. Three short films from WFI students were presented.

The first of the shorts was Emily Savage’s Ambivalent, a dark, intriguing story about assault flipped on its head. Next up was Zoe Manitowabi’s The Golden Amulet with a break in the surrounding realism featuring elves and magic. The series of shorts was capped off with Kaylee LeBreton’s Bella, a beautifully distressing black and white film about a woman being followed by trauma that comes to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

Pikutiskaau closed the night. The film is a look at the philosophy of Mother Earth in the Cree tradition. Built on interviews with Cree individuals as well as Cheechoo’s own narration, the film sheds light on the beauty of Cree tradition. Lacing the dialogue together is imagery of nature and Cree traditions, as well as occasional artwork, some of which was done by Cheechoo herself. The philosophy of Mother Nature even shines through in the film’s visuals — images of flowers would melt into different flowers, a face would blend into the sky; it all serves as a visual representation of how we’re at one with nature and the earth around us. The film was chosen to be shown with a clear purpose, calling to mind the underlying theme of this year’s Celebration of Nations: Empathic Traditions — Honouring Mother Earth.

In keeping with the theme of Mother Nature, the other three film events that were shown over the course of the three days tackled various issues plaguing the natural world.

Friday and Saturday saw showings of First Daughter and the Black Snake, a documentary following Winona LaDuke, executive director of native-run environmental justice organization Honor the Earth, as she and her community attempt to preserve their traditional way of life and sacred wild rice lakes by fighting back against Enbridge’s proposed pipeline route through her tribe’s 1855 Treaty land.

On Saturday and Sunday, award-winning documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch was shown. This film may be familiar to some, as it was previously shown as part of the 2017-2018 season of the Brock University Film Society (BUFS) screenings. Outside of the local community, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch has made waves in festivals, award shows and critics circles alike. The film is an exploration of the newly emerging concept of a geological age known as the Anthropocene, which is defined by the massive effects humanity has had on earth. Overall, the must-watch film’s impact lies in the close look it takes at a crucial yet lesser known moment in geology happening right underneath us.

Saturday saw another collection of shorts: this time, the Canadian Biosphere Reserves Association (CBRA) Film Shorts. This series of films focuses on the attempts of Indigenous people who work to preserve the natural world.

The films at this year’s Celebration of Nations barely scratched the surface of what Indigenous cinema has to offer. For both education and the sheer beauty of their age old traditions and ways of life, they’re worth viewing.

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