by Petronella Duda
While some people are just settling themselves on the grounds of the Atlin Arts and Music Festival, others are already waiting at the information booth line at 9 a.m., eager to snag some ticket vouchers to this year’s film screenings.
The Globe Theatre, a 100-year-old building where the films are viewed, only holds about 100 people, making tickets to the films a hot commodity for eager cinephiles and those trying to escape the ever-changing weather forecast.
Similar to previous years, the programming offers a great variety of genres; everything from stop-motion to drama. There's even a musical documentary.
But this year, something stands out. When it comes to the selection of films, there's a greater representation of Indigenous stories and films created by Indigenous directors. In fact, about a third of the films featured at the festival contain an Indigenous storyline or are directed by Indigenous peoples.
Andrew Connors is the artistic director of the Yukon Film Society (YFS) and the host of the festival’s film screening. He says the work of Indigenous filmmakers has been a high priority for the YFS for over a decade, but the shift in the amount of Indigenous films available makes the selection possible.
He says this availability is in part due to the National Film Board's continuous support as well as well as the public’s growing interest in learning about Indigenous cultures.
“With the 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there has been a recognition, I think, generally within Canada, that there needs to be more Indigenous voices and perspectives,” said Connors.
“Reconciliation is finally coming into the light, taking more of a centre stage and it is reflected in this year’s program.”
Marie Clements is a Métis performer, screenwriter and director. Her musical documentary, The Road Forward, which pays tribute to the Native Brotherhood of British Columbia and the First Nations civil rights movement in Canada, is featured at this year’s festival.
Clements says she feels the public is not only wanting to become more engaged in learning about Indigenous culture and history, or what she calls “shared history,” but also understanding it.
“People want to see stories that they weren’t aware of or didn’t know existed,” said Clements. “I think there is a critical mass of First Nations musicians and filmmakers and a movement in itself that is starting to galvanize into a real force and people are starting to understand it better in that way.”
At this year’s Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival in Toronto, Clements says there were about four to six feature documentaries that included Indigenous ideas, both by Indigenous and non-Indigenous filmmakers. She says those numbers are a “huge rise” from previous years.
Fritz Mueller directed Journeys to Adäka, a documentary that follows seven Yukon First Nation performers and artists in the months leading to Adäka Cultural Festival in Whitehorse. He says that while these Indigenous stories are on the rise, there are still many more that need to be discovered.
“I think there are a lot of stories that still haven’t been told, many untold stories still to come that we haven’t heard in the broader media,” said Mueller.
Mueller says he built a relationship with the Indigenous peoples and communities he filmed for over five years. He quotes one of his subjects, Bryan Walker: “Good things take time.”
“These are complex topics that are layered, some of them are confusing so it takes time,” he explains. “For beginning filmmakers or people who haven’t worked with the cultural communities, there needs to be patience and honesty.”
He advises non-Indigenous filmmakers who wish to share Indigenous stories to take their time and build a real connection and trust with the communities.
“If you don’t get the invitation to make the film then maybe it shouldn’t be told. Maybe it should be told by someone else or have them tell the stories themselves.”
While Clements thinks there still needs to be more space for Indigenous filmmakers and artists telling their own stories, she also says that “any voice has the ability to tell the story in their voice, and that is powerful.”
“I think that it makes the world more generous, meaning that we can include other people in those stories and that they can include us in it,” explains Clements.
“We are not doing it separately but rather in a parallel way of like-mindedness and that is the positive part. People are engaging in a way that is positive and in a way that does include Indigenous ideas, thoughts and relationships.”