This year’s imagineNATIVE film and video fest is going to be a biggie! Submissions came in from all over the world and Canada, featuring docs, dramas, horror and shorts, and movies with recognizable stars, new talent and tones of super independent shorts. The great thing about film festivals in general is the access to films you might not otherwise see, and that goes for Native filmmaking even more. With less than limited releases sometimes, there are stories here I would never have heard of otherwise showcased. Lucky me I got to test them all out!
Here are 5 features from the fest that I highly recommend and a few honourable mentions (though the whole fest should be mentioned!):
5) Unnuap Taarnerpaaffiani (When the Darkness Comes) – Greenland
Do I love independent horror or what? Well, yes I do. This little gem is a classic ghost story about two pals lookin’ for fun. They take cameras to a house rumoured to be haunted and stay overnight. The mix of digital film cameras and camcorders gives that Blair Witch feel and the snow, the cold and the early sunsets make for the perfect backdrop for a creepy thriller.
Unnuap Taarnerpaaffiani (When the Darkness Comes) screens Friday, October 16, 10:45 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
4) Le Dep – Quebec
This film is set on a northern reserve in the dead of winter, of course. A young gal runs her father’s shop when her estranged brother shows up to cause some real drama. You get it right away, this gal is all on her own and pressures on her from all sides–pressure to be loyal to her community, to do something important with her life, to take care of her family and to be successful. A story about a family broken apart by circumstance and grudges, this film feels like a letter home.
Le Dep screens Friday, October 16, 1:30 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
3) Redfern Now – Promise Me / The Redfern Story – Australia
These two films both focus on an area on Sydney, Australia, heavily populated by indigenous people. The Redfern Story is a doc giving the history of the neighbourhood and an independent, indigenous activist theatre company in the 70s. Redfern Now is a fictional feature about present day Redfern. Starring Deborah Mailman (The Sapphires), this film is about the racism and classism that still runs deep in Sydney. Both films inform each other and have an underlying feeling of unwavering hope and solidarity.
Redfern Now – Promise Me screens Friday, October 16, 3:30 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
The Redfern Story screens Saturday, October 17, 12:00 p.m. at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
2) Fire Song – Canada
This one really feels like a cold shower for anyone not aware of what reserve life is like in parts of Canada. The film is led by a young gay teen planning to move off his reserve for university despite the regular obstacles. His plans turn to dreams when major life and family crisis take priority. The reality of our young hero’s life seems bleak, but the story doesn’t let you settle on the negative. Paired with simple but striking imagery and great performances by the stars (including Jennifer Podemski of Dance Me Outside) this movie feels sad and hopeful at the same time.
Fire Song screens Sunday, October 18, 6:00 p.m. at TIFFBell Lightbox.
1) Mekko – United States
Mekko is recently out after serving years in prison and is immediately without a place to stay. He is introduced to the Native community living on the street, and runs into an old friend. This film pairs myth and traditional stories with a harsh modern day context. Mekko is faced with a choice of paths and could be easily coaxed down the wrong one. The storytelling of this film is slow and steady, but the imagery is heartbreakingly gorgeous. It is a stark look at poverty in the US and how Native Americans are right there in the middle.
Mekko screens Wednesday, October 14, 7:00 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.
Honourable mentions: The Grandfather of all Treaties, The Dead Lands, #selfie#stories: Youth Shorts, all the things by Kent Monkman featured
imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival runs October 14-18 in Toronto.