REVISIONING THE AMERICAS THROUGH INDIGENOUS CINEMA 2010
REGARDS AUTOCHTONES SUR LES AMÉRIQUES 2010
VISIONES INDÍGENAS SOBRE LAS AMERICAS 2010
Listening is a first task of the artist committed to his community. One must lend an ear in order to give life to the voice which re-tells the founding stories along with the new chapters brought upon by current events. For the unchanging remains in every present manifestation and the task of the Indigenous documentary filmmaker will be to perceive, underneath the surface of things, the undercurrents that convey identity.
André Dudemaine (2008), “La voix de tous les miens”, Revue 24 Images.
For its second edition, Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema renews its goal to reach a greater understanding of the role of Indigenous film experiences and perspectives in what are, and what can become, the Americas, and, during the First People’s festival Présence autochtone, to build bridges between the world of Indigenous cinema and Academia, as well as between local Native communities and the greater public. Through conferences with scholars and round-table discussions with filmmakers/videomakers, producers and other professionals of Indigenous cinema, we hope, once again, to engage in a collective critical discussion around this fast growing cinema. We also wish to reflect on the contribution and the very place of the festival Présence autochtone in the construction of an “Indigenous continental public space” which can be experienced each year in Montreal.
The directions that this reflection may take seem to be as numerous as the ones that Indigenous cinema does itself. This year marks the 20th anniversary of both the Présence autochtone festival and the events that led to the 1990 Oka crisis. On this occasion, Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema aims more specifically to put history and politics in the spotlight of Indigenous cinema. We thus wish to highlight the relevance and power of an original voice that is shaped and transmitted through Indigenous cinema, the resonance of which is crucial to current affairs, as well as to the construction of tomorrow’s world. At the same time, we hope to create a multidisciplinary encounter beneficial to the pursuit of the theoretical and epistemological reflections elicited by the academic study of Indigenous cinema, in particular as the commemoration of the Oka crisis will prompt us in a very concrete way to situate Indigenous films and videos within a historical, political, social, and cultural context from which they have emerged.
The Power of Film
The rapidly-growing Indigenous film and audiovisual production challenges the unilinear perspective and sole voice of history with a capital “H”, the one that literally invented “people without history”, to quote from Eric Wolf (1), that obliterated at the same time the diversity of memories, witnesses’ accounts, and the different ways to preserve the past and tell its story. As scholar Frewa Schiwy explains, “[non-Native] film and video have reproduced the gaze of Empire, reinforcing ideas about indigenous peoples as inhabiting a primitive, pre-technological world first offered with narratives of conquest.” In fact, a significant part of Western cinema has developed over the years like a technological and symbolic system, contributing to the production and assertion of a unidirectional historical truth. It is not without reason that Alanis Obomsawin, a pioneer of Indigenous cinema, pointed out with a mixture of wit and gravity that history would have been different if Indigenous communities would have been equipped with cameras in the 16th century (3). According to this perspective, the camera appears as the best possible weapon to fight and resist against the usurpation of history, past and present, and to counter the harmful consequences that ensue from it. Whether it is by giving voice to individuals involved in historical events or by revisioning Western cinema from an Indigenous perspective, documentary films recount and take part in multiple ways in contemporary Indigenous realities.
Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema 2010 will also offer the opportunity to discuss issues surrounding Indigenous cinema within the public space, locus in which the individual, the community and the political converge: the multiple media spaces occupied by Indigenous films; the possibilities and restrictions of financing and distribution; the creation of solidarity networks through Indigenous cinema production and media; the place of cinema and video in Indigenous communities and their impact on the general public. If Indigenous cinema, which assembles sound and image, the real and the imaginary, is at the crossroads of history, politics and media strategies, it also fully takes part in cultural expression, aesthetics and different imaginaries. Could one maybe then talk about an Indigenous cinematographic vision, that is, a way of seeing that comes from an Indigenous experience and that shapes the nature of the film itself, or rather about a form of self-determination in creation, of a way of telling stories that refers to what Michelle Raheja has called “visual sovereignty”?(4)
In 1991, the Hopi videographer Victor Masayesva insisted on the accountability that Indigenous filmmakers felt towards their relations: “Accountability as an individual, as a clan, as a tribal, as a family member. That’s where we’re at as Indian filmmakers. We want to start participating [in] and developing an Indian aesthetic.” (5) Twenty year later, with the blossoming of Indigenous cinema production, it is interesting to look at where these filmmakers are now. What transformations have occurred in the field as far as the aesthetics are concerned? What can be said about the growing place given to feature fiction films, as showed in the 2010 program of the Présence autochtone festival? All these questions invite us to reflect upon the aesthetic forms and the imaginaries at work within Indigenous cinema, as well as upon the latter’s relation to the different cultural and artistic traditions of Indigenous peoples.
Whether they are honoring elders, allowing youth to express their ideas and visions of the world, taking us to mythical or satirical worlds, Indigenous films, from documentaries to fiction and animation films, are the expression of a wealth of traditions, experiences and narratives that are unveiled within cultural spaces that require constant actualization. In this way, we want to underline the importance of understanding and actively recognizing that through a dynamic, original and autonomous film production, Indigenous people fully participate in the contemporary experience of the Americas and of its becoming. This multiplicity and this intersection of perspectives and experiences must be understood as essential in the becoming of the Americas. And it is to this end that we put forward Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema. Moreover, we wish to open up a space for linguistic diversity by using simultaneous translation during every activity of this encounter, in order to allow for each one of us to exchange, debate, network, share ideas, in short, cast multiple lights on the Americas…
For more than 10 years, the Interdisciplinary Research Group on the Americas (GIRA) has been developing a collective questioning at a continental level on what the American continent is and means in terms of cultural and artistic expressions, social development, identity and politics, borders, languages, migrations, history and memory, etc. This constantly evolving reflection led by the GIRA aims for a de-centering of normally recognized frameworks and spaces, whether they be national, institutional or disciplinary, in order to help transform views and perspectives on action, particularly by confronting the legitimacy of scientific knowledge with the diversity of knowledge that stems from practices and experiences. In this perspective, the various projects of the GIRA focus on the process of encounter (of ideas, of people) and on what can emerge from it, rather than on finding definitive answers. The GIRA regularly collaborates with partners from various backgrounds and understandings of action. Hence this event is the fruit of a close collaboration between the GIRA, Terres en vues/Lands InSights, the Réseau DIALOG and the cultural and linguistic center Kanien'kehaka Onkwawén:na Raotitiohkwa, involved in the area of Native arts and academic research as much as in the areas of culture and community. For this second year, the concretization of this original space of encounter and reflection that is Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema stems out of our willingness and ability to put together our specific strengths, resources, networks, ideas and ways of working
We hope that with Revisioning the Americas through Indigenous Cinema 2010, collaborations and encounters around Indigenous cinema will continue beyond these three days and that, through words and images, this will pave the way towards a history that is yet to be made…
We wish you a good event!
Claudine Cyr and Isabelle St-Amand
(1) Eric Wolf (1982). Europe and the People Without History. Berkeley: University of California Press.
(2) Frewa Schiwy (2009). Indianizing Film. Decolonization, the Andes, & the Question of Technology, London: Rutgers University Press, p. 13.
(3) Faye Ginsburg and Audra Simpson. “The Oka Crisis: The Power of a Woman with a Camera”. 270 Years of Resistance. Essays, Articles and Documentation. National Film Board of Canada.
(4) Michelle Raheja (2007). «Reading Nanook's Smile: Visual Sovereignty, Indigenous Revisions of Ethnography, and Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)», American Quarterly, Vol. 59, no 4, Dec, p. 1160.
(5) Cité dans Steven Leuthold (1998). Indigenous Aesthetics. Native Art, Media and Identity. University of Texas Press: Austin, p. 1.