(brief) Recap: 2010 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

imagineNATIVE was always my favourite Toronto festival and I went every year from its inception up until I left the city for the Prairies in 2006. As a young aspiring journalist/visual storyteller, the films I saw and the people I met inspired me to try to carve my own path in the field. That path led me to Winnipeg where I attended other outstanding multimedia events like the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival. But when I returned to Ontario this year I was thrilled that I’d be able to attend imagineNATIVE once again.

It was a quick trip. I left Ottawa after work on Friday, got to Toronto quite late, and went back late Sunday. When I got to the main venue (Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre) early Saturday afternoon, the vibe was electric. Some of the best Aboriginal filmmakers and aficionados from around the world were buzzing about, lining up early for each showcase. Seeing that, I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it for any of the programming in the days prior. Nonetheless, I checked out a few shorts in the media room – namely Unreserved: The Work of Louie Gong by Tracy Rector and Tashina by Caroline Monnet. Rector’s short looks at how Gong is combining traditional Salish art with popular footwear to expand to his culture’s reach, while Monnet’s is a powerful glimpse of a harsh reality many Aboriginal youth are faced with: leaving the rez to get an education. Two great short films.

From there I checked out the Dancing Queenz showcase – comprised of short films based on dance performances. Some were funny, and others were weird and really heavy. The marquee film of the set was the standout. Dance to Miss Chief is a hilarious take on some of the German Indian-exploitation (is that a term?) films of the 1960s that fantasized Native life in North America. Winnetou would have met his match in Miss Chief.

That evening, though, was definitely the highlight for me. Zacharias Kunuk and Ian Mauro were on hand for the world premiere of their new documentary Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change. The film is an honest, comprehensive, compelling yet surprisingly hopeful first-hand account of how climate change is affecting Canada’s Inuit in the far north. The filmmakers interviewed dozens of Inuit elders, hunters, and leaders on how the world around them has changed in their lifetime. It’s almost entirely in various dialects of Inuktitut, layered with stunning imagery of life in the Arctic. This film will eventually be required viewing around the world. As an added treat, Kunuk and Mauro answered questions from not only the crowd, but also from viewers around the world on Skype. It was one of the coolest Q&A sessions I’ve seen.

Sunday I caught up on a few other shorts before checking out A Good Day to Die, the documentary on the life of American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks. It’s a great primer for anyone unfamiliar with AIM and paints a great picture of a man whose passion for Aboriginal people across the continent has never wavered. Banks is candid in a series of wide-ranging interviews on what sparked the movement and his future hopes for his people.

My festival experience this year was brief, but it was more than worthwhile. The mediaINDIGENGA team (Rick and Tim) did an amazing job documenting the entire experience (as seen here), so stay tuned for more ongoing coverage of some of the amazing films and filmmakers who presented at this year’s imagineNATIVE. I can’t wait to make my visit longer next year.

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