ImagineNATIVE Festival celebrates 20 years of Indigenous works with free Friday

The 20th annual ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival carries on through to Sunday at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, with more than 100 features, docs, shorts, and music videos by Indigenous filmmakers.  

This year, almost three quarters works on offer were the work of Indigenous female directors.

Here, Original-Cin’s Thom Ernst reviews The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, which previously played the Toronto International Film Festival.

Other TIFF-tested ImagineNATIVE features include, Blood Quantum by Jeff Barnaby; Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger by Alanis Obomsawin; and the documentary short This Ink Runs Deep by Asia Youngman, who previously worked as an effects director on Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Also of note: All screenings on Friday, October 25 are free at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Features scheduled include nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up, Tasha Hubbard’s documentary about Colten Boushie's family’s iquest for justice, The Book of the Sea, Aleksei Vakhrushev’s doc about the Indigenous Russian Chukotkan way of life as whale hunters, and the Russian/Sakha Republic dramatic feature The Cursed Harp by Peter Hiki.

Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and Rosie (Violet Nelson) in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and Rosie (Violet Nelson) in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

 The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open

By Thom Ernst

Rating: B-plus

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open is an inner-city road picture. It’s a mouthful of a title that some (me) will have trouble remembering, but it’s a picture that few will be able to forget.  As road pictures go, the journey here is not that far—a few blocks on foot, several more by Uber—but the distance between where they begin and where they might end is not measured in miles, but in hope.

Áila (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) is on her way home when she comes across Rosie (Violet Nelson) a pregnant and seemingly passive young Indigenous woman, being verbally abused and threatened by her boyfriend.  Áila wants to help, but Rosie, who appears to have endured this sort of treatment before, is reluctant to accept help, particularly if the police are involved. Eventually Áila manages to erode some of Rosie’s mistrust and the two women set off to find Rosie a place from her abuser. 

This is an arthouse/festival film to be sure. Directors Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’ create a real-time drama where the action plays out in words. We never get a clear view of Rosie’s abuser, but his angry threats trail after them like misfired bullets. 

Both women are Indigenous but live two seemingly diverse lives, though one suspects their base experiences are the same. But the film does not subscribe to a feel-good format where bonds are made, and new friendships are formed. Neither does the film seem too interested in handing over a triumphant moment of personal growth. 

The film is gentle, subtle, patient and wholly authentic. What makes it essential is not only in its ability to create a drama that’s real, harrowing, haunting, and hopeful but in its ability to keep playing in our heart long after it’s over.  

The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Directed by Kathleen Hepburn and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers. Starring Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Violet Nelson. Plays as part of the imagineNATIVE festival, Sunday, October 27, 10:45 a.m. TIFF Bell Lightbox 1.

Blood Quantum

By Thom Ernst

Rating: B

Zombie movies don’t tend to solicit much in the way of thoughtful discourse, nor do they often aspire to any higher purpose than to shock and terrify. 

This could have been true of Blood Quantum, director Jeff Barnaby’s (Rhymes for Young Ghouls) somewhat revisionist zombie horror flick.  But just as you are settling into to the routine of yet one more zombie apocalypse, it dawns on you that the movie also works—perhaps works even better— as a revisionist western. 

Indigenous survivors of a zombie apocalypse cope with the world and each other in Blood Quantum

Indigenous survivors of a zombie apocalypse cope with the world and each other in Blood Quantum

And there is much more going on in Barnaby’s film than just the dead chomping on live flesh. In Barnaby’s walking-dead western, which may or may not be an intentional, albeit slight, reimagining of Fort Apache (1948), the savages are non-indigenous zombies while the Indigenous peoples, who are immune to the zombie virus, hold down the fort. This shift of perspective is sure to resonate strongly with anyone raised on the myth of the Hollywood western.  

Blood Quantum begins rather effectively on the Red Crow reserve with Gisigu (Stonehorse Lone Goeman) a Mi'gMaq elder, standing before a catch of freshly gutted salmon that start flopping on the table like they were just pulled from the lake. Before long the local Sheriff (Michael Greyeyes) finds the reservation swarming with flesh eating zombies. 

Eight months later, a formidable wall has been built around the reserve, harbouring both white and Indigenous survivors including the Sheriff’s ex-wife, Joss (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers), and their two adult sons. Of the sons, Lysol (Kiowa Gordon) has a militant opposition toward the new-comers, which stands in direct contrast to that of his more compassionate younger brother Joseph (Forrest Goodluck). Further complicating the brother’s conflicted relationship is Charlie (Olivia Scriven) Joseph’s pregnant, white, girlfriend.  

Blood Quantum is not short on social, and cultural observations, but neither does it scrimp on zombies gorging on lengthy intestines. There are even a few comic turns, thanks in part to the on-screen presence of Gary Farmer and Brandon Oakes.  

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