Oct 17-21 at various theatres.
It’s a nice gesture that the programmers of this year’s ImagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival have turned their opening-night gala into a kind of mini-career retrospective. Not only is the festival screening The People of the Kattawapiskak River—the latest film by Alanis Obomsawin—but it’s being preceded by Christmas at Moose Factory, the 1971 short that started the venerable Canadian filmmaker’s career. (The films screen on Oct. 17, 7 p.m. at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema.)
Beyond showcasing Obomsawin’s durability, the double-header is a smart pairing: Both films deal with native settlements on the shores of James Bay. Christmas at Moose Factory is a kind of mood piece, combining a little girl’s narration with crayon drawings to give a child’s-eye view of the community—one that still works, 40 years later, to collapse the sense of distance between the director’s subjects and a hypothetical urban viewer. The switch at the end to actual photographs of Cree families doesn’t contradict the scribbled, two-dimensional aesthetic: If anything, it gives the film a beguiling dual vision.
The People of the Kattawapiskak River is less poetic and more methodical: It’s an overview of the housing crisis that made headlines in 2011 and the ensuing media crush that resulted in all kinds of partisan posturing in Ottawa. Obomsawin summarizes the positions and interests of the various power players and then hunkers down with members of the Attawapiskat settlement, who seem reluctant to slide into their externally prescribed roles as victims. If the film is conventionally made, it still works effectively within that framework—it’s engaging without being overwrought.
Not all of the offerings at ImagineNATIVE are so serious-minded. The genre-oriented Witching Hour Shorts program (Oct. 19, 11:30 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox) is highlighted by the Swedish entry, Retaliation for a Greater Good, a concise, dialogue-free thriller centred on a very valuable (and very dangerous) book. There are even pulpier pleasures on display in Charlie Zone (Oct. 19, 9:15 p.m., TIFF Bell Lightbox), which concerns a down-on-his luck Aboriginal boxer hired to pluck a poor little rich girl out of a crackhouse. It’s a bit like an East Coast gloss on Taken, with a strong performance in the lead from Glen Gould, who’s got the battered tough-guy thing down pat—he looks like he can take whatever the filmmakers can throw at him, which turns out to be plenty.