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ImagineNATIVE Festival: Growth and Promise

By TO411 staff writer Daisy Maclean

The 2011 imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival was held this year at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, a new venue for the festival and a far cry from the small, uncomfortable theatre at the JCC. The festival celebrates the latest works by Indigenous peoples on the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio, and new media. Works accepted reflect the diversity of the world’s Indigenous nations and illustrate the vitality and excellence of native art and culture in contemporary media. This year Canadian and Indigenous icon Buffy Sainte-Marie, almost eclipsed the entire festival as she appeared to give a special performance and participate in a panel discussion at the festival.

The Opening Night Gala featured a short film called, Amaqqut Nunaat (The Country of Wolves) directed by Neil Christopher. Based on an Inuit folktale, the animated film tells a dark story of two brothers who find themselves adrift on sea ice while out hunting for seal. After days they come to shore in a strange land and must try and find their way home or perish. 

Nunavut is going through a unique time in their culture, in that it’s remaining elders will pass-on over the next decade. As Inuit culture is mainly oral, it is important to preserve and share these traditional stories. For over eight years, Inhabit Media has been working with Inuit elders, storytellers, and cultural performers to ensure that Inuit stories and language are preserved and now accessible to outsiders. Winner of this year’s Best Canadian Short Drama, presented by Isuma TV, Amaqqut Nunaat is told in traditional North Baffin dialect, with French and English subtitles.

On the Ice was the dramatic feature screened at the Opening Night Gala. Set in an small Alaskan town, the film follows the lives of two boys as they experience a tragic accident out on the ice while seal hunting. Convinced the consequences will be dire, the boys hide the truth and try to continue on as normal, but eventually their guilt and doubt tear through their friendship and bring them back to face the choices they made and how that defines them as men. As a suspense story, the film has some pacing problems that leaves the action lagging at times. This seems to be brought about by the location, with such an exotic landscape I can imagine that it’s hard not put a few more shots of the unsetting sun over the arctic ice fields, however the stillness of the landscape combined with the slow conversation editing style leaves the film without momentum in key scenes. 

Winner of Best Dramatic Feature presented by Bell Media, was an Australian gem Here I Am directed by Beck Cole. The films tells the story of a Aboriginal woman paroled from prison as she struggles to get her life back. Determined to convince the authorities that she can care for her infant daughter, Rosie, Karen finds refuge at a women’s shelter, where the hardened residents give her the guidance and support she needs. Similar in themes to Precious, the films sheds a much needed light on the obstacles facing Aboriginal women. However, like On The Ice, the film uses several non-professional actors with mixed results. Nonetheless it is a poignant film worth a look if you get the chance.