Canadian filmmakers shaking things up at Sundance Film Festival
Indigenous films bring new sense of urgency to festival.
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Rise and Rumble aren’t just the titles of two noteworthy Canadian productions headed to this month’s Sundance Film Festival. They’re also statements of purpose.
Canada’s filmmakers are out to get attention and shake up conventional wisdom at Sundance (Jan. 19-29).
This is especially true regarding films from Canada’s indigenous communities. They’ve always been welcome at Sundance, but the selections this year have a new sense of urgency.
Rise, directed by Toronto’s Michelle Latimer, an Algonquin/Métis filmmaker, is an original series for Rogers Media’s Viceland TV channel, planned for broadcast early this year.
Premiering in Sundance’s Special Events section, Rise is billed as “a condemnation of colonialism and a celebration of Indigenous people worldwide.” Three episodes premiering at Sundance — Sacred Water, Red Power and Apache Stronghold — show how native North Americans and their global supporters are peacefully, but forcefully, fighting back against exploitation of their land: at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation spanning North Dakota and South Dakota, where the Dakota Access Pipeline threatens water supplies; and also at Arizona’s San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, where mining companies seek to dig up sacred ground.
“As a filmmaker I think I have a very real responsibility to bear witness,” director/showrunner Latimer says via email. “How can I go work on a reality show about food or something when there are people in my own community dying because of lack of clean water, medical care and housing — and this is supposed to be in one of the most affluent countries in the world?
“Something is very, very wrong when you look at that picture. Making films gives me a platform to explore and communicate the things in society I disagree with. And it gives me a productive place to direct my anger. Because believe me, I’m angry at both the disparity and the privilege I see around me every day.”
One of the Standing Rock episodes includes an interview with Jesse Wente, a member of the Ojibwa nation and TIFF’s director of film programs.
“The rise of Indigenous media has really occurred in the last 10 years,” he says. “There’s absolutely a connection between the rise of things like Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The fact that you don’t need to have a desk in a mainstream newsroom to necessarily have a voice in today’s media has meant a lot for marginalized communities.”
It also allows these communities to correct the historical record, which is the impetus for Rumble, subtitled The Indians Who Rocked the World. It’s a documentary account of how musicians with aboriginal roots, including guitar greats Jimi Hendrix, Link Wray, Charley Patton and The Band’s Robbie Robertson, made a profound impact on popular music, along with such singers as Rita Coolidge, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Mildred Bailey and the rapper Taboo.
Sundance director John Cooper is excited about Rise and Rumble playing his festival because these films are “taking it to a place where you can actually effect change through the storytelling itself. I think that’s what Rumble is going to do, because it’s interesting ... and it brings you closer into looking at our world a little differently.
“With Rise, I really like the whole notion of young people and young voices telling these stories, which is part of the mission of that project.”
In Focus: Richard Crouse