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The indigenous filmmakers bringing their stories to the big screen

Canadian cinema is benefiting from the diversity of its filmmakers to create new stories and bring minority lives to the big screen.

Male-dominated genres from a female perspective

Canadian directors are being given the freedom to create films from genres that have not typically portrayed minority themes or included Canadian indigenous leads. This is exemplified by the Cree-Métis filmmaker Danis Goulet. The female director wrote and directed Night Raiders, a dystopian science-fiction film that has won a series of accolades including seven Canadian Screen Awards and the DGC Discovery Award from the Directors Guild of Canada. The film stars Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, a Blackfoot and Sámi actor from the Kainai First Nation, and features strong female indigenous leads.

Dystopias are highly popular in many areas of the entertainment industry. The video game Watch Dogs: Legion, which was developed by Ubisoft Toronto, takes players into a world of dystopian, futuristic societies. While in the iGaming industry, futuristic worlds are a popular theme in slot games such as CyberPunk City, which can be played via online gambling in Canada. The interest in sci-fi in general, and dystopian societies in particular, has contributed to the success of these game titles.

The Last Mark, directed by the Egyptian/Canadian writer Reem Morsi, is a thriller that portrays another male-dominated film genre from a female perspective. Morsi highlighted the role played by the screenwriter Cheryl Meyer, who subverted the traditional crime thriller hitman to create a character through a female perspective and reveal him in all his vulnerabilities.

Bringing indigenous stories to a wider audience

The short documentary Emptying the Tank, directed by Caroline Monnet, an Algonquin French Canadian filmmaker, tells the story of the Chippewa female mixed martial arts fighter, Ashley Nichols. Audiences not only experience the physical strength and dedication of Nichols, her life is also presented from a spiritual perspective. Monnet uses the medium of film to examine themes close to her and her community, in the process of dispelling stereotypes while educating audiences about indigenous Canada. 

The Inuk filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, who has examined social themes ever since her first documentary James Houston: The Most Interesting Group of People You’ll Ever Meet in 2008, has documented a range of themes from an Inuit perspective such as seal hunting and homosexuality. The news that the streaming service Netflix is opening a Canada office has raised hopes that indigenous filmmakers and writers will benefit from increased exposure on the platform.

Kerry Swanson, co-executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office, points out the huge strides have been made by indigenous directors in the Canadian film industry over the past five years: “We’re starting to see what storytellers can do when they’re adequately funded and resourced. We’re seeing Indigenous filmmakers winning national awards and breaking box-office records.”

Canadian cinema is taking full advantage of the diverse range of directors at its disposal to bring indigenous stories to a wider audience and, at the same time, indigenous filmmakers are taking traditional film genres and presenting them from a female perspective.

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