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Frosty December Morning Movies

Heidi Marx writes about her recent experience at The Decolonizing Lens

December 14, 2016 — 

The following is an editorial written by Heidi Marx, associate dean of arts for undergraduate studies

This weekend I took my five-year old son, Alexander, to see a series of short films curated and hosted by Kaila Johnston (National Center for Truth and Reconciliation) and Jocelyn Thorpe (Women’s and Gender Studies, Faculty of Arts) held downtown at Cinematheque. The event was part of their monthly film and discussion series, The Decolonizing Lens, which features the work and words of Indigenous filmmakers. All screenings are free and open to everyone.

There was a good crowd in the theatre on a very chilly Saturday at a very busy time of year. All of the shorts featured were moving and engaging, fulfilling the mandate of the series to present positive and powerful images of Indigenous peoples that challenge and go beyond the often racist and stereotypical ones produced in mainstream media. They did this with humour and honesty. Each piece, without effacing or making light of difficult subjects such as poverty, loss and racism, showed resilient, ingenious, artistic and imaginative responses to challenging life circumstances. And each film did this without the easy and often saccharine solutions found in so many Hollywood productions. The films explored complex themes in ways that were simultaneously accessible to the children in the audience and challenging and inspiring for the adults.

My son and I enjoyed Assini in particular (and not only because of the toy guns and cool sling shot), a film by Gail Maurice about a girl growing up in Saskatchewan in the late 1970s and coming to terms with her Native identity first through denial and then through a deeper understanding of the difficult dialectic between reclaiming pride and confronting systemic racism. The film deftly wove allusions to the experience of her grandmother in the residential school system with her own experiences in a reserve school under the tutelage of non-Indigenous teachers who lived segregated from their students both physically and emotionally. In the end, audience members got to cheer along with Assini and her friends when they beat the bully, stomped on the stereotypes and realized that “Indians rule!”

After watching the films, audience members had the opportunity to chat with two of the filmmakers: eight-year-old Colton Willier from Calgary (who made the film Skateboarding Pants), and Winnipeg’s own Sonya Ballantyne (Crash Site). Both filmmakers have had their work featured at ImagineNATIVE, the Toronto-based festival of Indigenous films and media arts. Jocelyn’s son, Leo, was especially focused on trying to ascertain just how many films Colton has made (over 50) and how many of them have titles (unclear). A favourite moment in the Q and A was when Sonya explained her love of superheroes as inspiration for her own films. When she was a kid she loved Batman and Superman, and was convinced that she was the latter when she vomited all over a page of a comic book that featured kryptonite, confusing car sickness with her susceptibility to the imaginary substance. She recounted how her mother told her that she couldn’t be Batman because he was rich, white and male, and she was none of these. In response to a lack of representation of people like her, Sonya grew up to create her own superheroes. After all, she noted, Indigenous people have lived both the end of the world and the origins of the world, and they have many superheroes to draw on in their legends. She gave audience members a sneak peak of some of her future work. One film will feature a group of young girls on a reserve who, in response to the loss of satellite television, decide to start a pro-wrestling club.

The Decolonizing Lens gives all of us the opportunity to see the incredible work of Indigenous filmmakers, and to learn from them what they are doing and why. I highly recommend the Decolonizing Lens series to one and all.

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