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Gathering the nations to watch Indigenous voices shift the landscape

Gathering the nations to watch Indigenous voices shift the landscape

Written by
Niki Little
October 22nd, 2019

In its 20th year, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival has become the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, showcasing the lives, concerns and innovations of Indigenous peoples around the world.

Gathering the nations to watch Indigenous voices shift the landscape

Still from Victoria Anderson-Gardner's Mni-Wiconi Mitakuyelo: Themes of social justice, language, time and land run throughout the festival.

Stories are one of the roots of Indigenous cultures.

Wabiska Maengun n' dizinkaa, my name is Niki Little. Kistiganwacheeng ndoonjiba, I am Anishininew from Garden Hill First Nation, Manitoba. I started as artistic director of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in mid-May of this year.

imagineNATIVE was initiated 20 years ago by Cynthia Lickers-Sage. Her notion was simple yet profoundly political and important: to occupy more space and increase the value of Indigenous visual storytellers. Since 1999, we have grown into the world's largest presenter of Indigenous screen content and are recognized as the global centre for excellence and innovation in Indigenous film, video and media art. This year, the Festival (#iN20) runs from October 22 to 27.

It is a real honour and a privilege that we, as a festival, can gather every fall to witness the continuum of Indigenous narratives. Through media art and moving images, the work articulates our gravest concerns and most profound ideas about who we are as global Indigenous peoples. Our lives. Our interests. Our voices. Our communities.

The land that imagineNATIVE occupies is part of the Treaty Lands and Territory of the Mississaugas of the Credit. It is the traditional territory of the Haudonausonee, Anishnaabe and Huron-Wendat Nations and is subject to the Dish with One Spoon Treaty, a covenant between the Haudonausonee and Anishnaabe.

The films reveal that there is something dynamic happening, a tide of Indigenous innovation and expression that is shifting the cultural landscape.

This land has been a gathering place for Indigenous nations since time immemorial, and the festival brings nations from across the world together to exchange ideas, share space and connect with kin globally. It’s like a fall camp, a time of harvest, nourishment and celebration before much-needed rest. The festival welcomes artwork from 201 artists representing 101 Indigenous nations, and gives voice to over 30 Indigenous languages. ImagineNATIVE is the largest intertribal (gathering of many nations) festival in the world, and at its centre are cultural growth and extraordinary invention.

This year's festival will be the most significant and multifaceted to date. It opens with a screening of Zacharias Kunuk's One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, supported by APTN. This film by one of our most acclaimed directors is profoundly connected to notions of social justice, language, time and land—threads that run throughout the festival programming. We are presenting more films than we have ever screened at TIFF Bell Lightbox: 13 feature documentaries, nine feature films and 12 short film programs, all of which feature extended accessibility, with closed captioning and five accessible-friendly screenings.

The films reveal that there is something dynamic happening: a tide of Indigenous innovation and expression that is shifting the cultural landscape. The films include Alanis Obomsawin's Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger, Jeff Barnaby's Blood Quantum, Tasha Hubbard's nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up and a retrospective of Hopi filmmaker Victor Masayesva Jr.’s work, curated by Dr. Dorothy Christian.

For the second year in a row, all screenings on October 25 will be free, thanks to the TD Bank Group. On October 27, the closing night gala at TIFF Bell Lightbox, supported by MADE-NOUS, will be The Sun Above Me Never Sets by first-time feature film director Lyubov Borisova.

Themes around time and land, more specifically notions of Indigenous time and relationships to land, are apparent throughout the festival. Thinking about this land, we will gather and reflect on 20 years of the festival but also welcome new voices. We are partnering for the second time with the Hamburg-based organization A Wall Is a Screen. Part walking tour, part film screening, A Wall Is a Screen projects Indigenous-made short films onto various surfaces along a secret, designated urban path across Toronto's downtown core. The event will begin outside the E.J. Pratt Library at Victoria University, University of Toronto, October 23 at 7:30 p.m.

As a festival, we acknowledge the various languages of expression, and we support this spirit through our expanded programming which this year includes eight exhibitions, six artist talks/panels, the iNDigital Space and the annual Art Crawl.

Thinking about collectivity and collaboration, we are fortunate to partner with A Space Gallery, Trinity Square Video, Canadian Filmmaker's Distribution Centre, Onsite Gallery, YYZ Artists' Outlet, and Prefix ICA to exhibit contemporary art by 29 Indigenous artists from around the circumpolar world, including Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Turtle Island (Canada) for the Art Crawl on October 24.

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We are also excited to partner with the Art Gallery of Ontario to co-present Lisa Reihana's In Pursuit of Venus [infected], a 64-minute, multi-channel projection and immersive experience which will run until March 29, 2020. Our community is invited to join Lisa Reihana in conversation with curator Dr. Julie Nagam at the AGO’s Baillie Court on October 25 at 6 p.m.

Showcasing Indigenous innovation, the iNDigital Space at imagineNATIVE will exhibit 19 digital and interactive media works. This exciting educational space is dedicated to enhancing the presentation, development and discourse of Indigenous-made digital and interactive media. The audience will also be able to engage with 14 audio works with radio, podcast, and sound pieces on the main floor of TIFF Bell Lightbox. And along with Revolutions Per Minute (RPM), we will present our annual music showcase The Beat, featuring live performances and the $10,000 iNBullseye Prize presentation, in partnership with Slaight Music.

Supporting the development of our storytelling and thinking about Indigenous futures, the Industry Days at imagineNATIVE will present over 30 panels, workshops, networking and social activities focused on advancing the careers, artistry and networks of Indigenous screen content creators. The iN20 anniversary festivities will culminate with imagineNATIVE's 20th Birthday Party on October 26. The festival's biggest social event is an evening of dance, music, performance, food and fun at Pilsner Hall at Steamwhistle Brewery.

Industry Days at imagineNATIVE will present over 30 panels, workshops, networking, and social activities focused on advancing the careers, artistry and networks of Indigenous screen content creators.

Celebration and acknowledgement come hand in hand at imagineNATIVE, and we are proud to honour this year's winning filmmakers at our Awards Presentation, October 27 at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Hosted by comedian Ryan McMahon, this event features a special performance by acclaimed filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin.

imagineNATIVE is also pleased to announce that the 2019 August Schellenberg Award of Excellence has been given to Michelle Thrush. The award was launched by Joan Karasevich Schellenberg in partnership with ACTRA to honour her late husband, legendary actor August (Augie) Schellenberg, and the spirit of his work.

Miikwehc to the artists in the festival for your care and labour and miikwehc to our community for supporting imagineNATIVE over the last 20 beautiful years as we continue to grow from our roots.

The imagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival runs October 22 to 27 at various locations in Toronto. For more information on the festival and the organization, visit their website.

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