Dreamspeakers was a beautiful and important film festival to explore and experience…”

Guest student review by Pip Pomroy

The Dreamspeakers International Indigenous Film Festival (DIIFF, or Dreamspeakers) is a unique, non-profit film festival that deals with the experiences of disenfranchised Indigenous communities. Many of these experiences confront the continuing issues for these communities, while also celebrating beautiful pieces of culture. As Dreamspeakers puts it, the festival is an opportunity for “Indigenous people from all around the globe to share their common bond.”

The festival ran from May 31 to June 7, an enjoyable and memorable eight-day, online experience. It received films from North America, Brazil, Australia, and Fiji, bringing an international level of knowledge and beauty that made the festival worthwhile.

The lasting effects of disenfranchisement and colonialism are a priority to tackle, leading to a high proportion of films that deal with devastating issues, such as legacies of colonialism, Residential Schools, and continuing pipeline crises. This is not to say that Dreamspeakers is a doom and gloom festival, or that this proportion of confronting films is unwarranted. Rather, it must be pointed out that to a white person such as myself, it can be easy to turn a blind eye to these issues and try to enjoy my privileged life to the fullest. Dreamspeakers quickly opened my eyes to the relentless assault of issues that plague a post-colonial Indigenous individual’s life.

Dreamspeakers showcased numerous activist films, such as Sonia Bonspille Boileau’s gritty thriller, Rustic Oracle (fiction, feature), which dealt with the prevalent issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. This Nish Media production included striking visuals of the vast issues surrounding Indigenous women, such as extensive boards of missing person’s posters, and provided a powerful performance from Lake Delisle, the child actor who played the protagonist, Ivy.

Michael Toledano and Sam Vinal’s Invasion: The Unist’ot’en’s Fight for Sovereignty (documentary, short) explored the internationally recognized Wet’suwet’en struggle against pipeline construction on their land.

David Craig’s The Mill (documentary, feature) confronts the pollution of Indigenous fisheries in the Maritimes, a nationally covered issue. These were the spotlight of social issue films at Dreamspeakers. The many more that follow similar themes contribute to why the festival is important to experience, even if you aren’t a film buff.

The average quality of films is extremely high, with few films falling below the steep standard that the festival quickly set. The peak of how good the best films are is also exemplary. The collection from the National Film Board and Hothouse 12 comprises three immaculate short films about Indigeneity, and Dark Place (fiction, feature), a brilliantly crafted Australian film, consisting of five tales with a different director for each, is also spectacular.

The triad from the NFB and Hothouse 12 can be accessed by any Canadian on nfb.ca. Kassia Ward’s Collector (fiction, short), which shows an alien making a statue of a white man picking his nose, is an alien glimpse into the strangeness of white culture. The other two shorts have the Indigenous horror filmmaker, Jeff Barnaby, as mentoring director, bringing an allure to them.

Christopher Gilbert Grant’s XO RAD Magical (documentary, short), “is a personal lyrical poem about the daily struggle of living with schizophrenia”, as the NFB describes it. This provides an evocative glimpse into what schizophrenia would feel like, with a strong mixture of hip-hop and experimental animation.

The Fake Calendar (fiction, short), directed by the Atikamekw artist Meky Ottawa, follows the journey of a young, Indigenous woman, as she goes out of her way to stay home on a Friday night. She opts to eat pizza and watch TV alone, instead of partying with a prying friend. The lyrical quality of her Indigenous language, and the electrifying “Bear Hunting Song” by Elisa Harkins creates an enthrallingly musical atmosphere, which ends on a touching note with the statement, “ONLY THE CREATOR CAN JUDGE ME”, shining in the neon night sky.

A student-made film by Eva Kaukai and Manon Chamberland, Throat Singing in Kangirsuk (documentary, short), was a touching and immersive moment of Inuk throat singing that carries over the four seasons of the Arctic. There are beautiful, traditional moments where they stop to smile and laugh, bringing an extra layer of beauty and fun. The stunning landscapes of the arctic, consisting of vast snow and rocky terrain, are mesmerizingly edited between to the beat of the singing.

Names For Snow (documentary, short), directed by and starring Rebecca Thomassie, an Inuk woman, was remarkable. There were opportunities for the viewers, Thomassie, and her child, to learn the words for different types of snow, the fact that there are 47 different types of snow, and to explore the visual enamour of this snow (including part of an igloo). For example, there is the Qingainguit, which is falling, shiny snow, which contrasts to the Aputjarittuq, which are deep banks of snow that form with a lack of wind.

I grew up in Australia until I was 10, and was thus drawn to Dark Place, the Australian film with five different tales, each written and directed by a different filmmaker: Kodie Bedford, Liam Phillips, Rob Braslin, Perun Bonser, and Björn Stewart. While all five of the tales were well-made, I would like to focus on the first and final ones, respectively Kodie Bedford’s “SCOUT” and Björn Stewart’s “KILLER NATIVE”, which is being turned into a feature-length film. The monsters of these narratives represent something much larger than being a monster. They become an emblem of our time that vicariously teaches the viewer about the Indigenous condition. The monsters made me understand the feelings surrounding Indigeneity at this time; a hatred towards the prevailing effects of colonialism, victim-blaming, and lack of care for Indigenous women. This section contains spoilers.

“SCOUT” has a similar idea to Rustic Oracle, as it follows the tale of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, though this time set within a place that Indigenous women have been trafficked to. The women are kept in the dull, grey interiors of shipping containers, while their captors always seem to be in a glamorous lounge. Deep meanings envelop “SCOUT”, as the white leader of the trafficking ring blames systemic racism on the Indigenous individuals, an obvious falsehood. Upon this, the Indigenous man kidnapped the protagonist, showing the little care that Indigenous women often get from their fellow men.

“KILLER NATIVE” is a satirical, periodic tale, which follows an ignorant, racist, white couple who keep yelling, “My land”, at the natural, Australian brush. An Indigenous man, who they title “Blackfella”, saves them from a monster that kills white people trying to colonially claim Indigenous land. Part of the mastery in this tale is the humour of the husband, Thomas, as his ‘heroics’ are brutally mocked, similarly to Tom Cruise’s in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. However, the true interest in this tale is the representation of “Blackfella”, who is plagued with the disease of the creature, visually spreading into him like intensified smallpox. “Blackfella” returns to his wife, who is the ‘monster’ of this narrative, and he is fully taken over by the disease. This white couple instilled disgust in these Indigenous people’s self-image, while also bringing a disease to their culture and land, both parts of the persisting colonial cycle.

I feel lucky to have experienced the Dreamspeakers International Indigenous Film Festival and would recommend future festivals to anyone interested. I learnt about issues I’d never heard of, and discovered multitudes about ones I’d previously heard of, but didn’t know enough about. There were opportunities to see the beauty of Indigenous cultures and enjoy the creativity from up-and-coming artists.

The festival ran smoothly, as I only experienced one technical issue over the eight days (I had to swap to Firefox to get a video to play) and found the curation of films to be enthralling, with many building upon each other’s themes and meanings. The only aspect that was lacking was the little interactivity with the filmmakers and actors, though that is excusable with everything else that was great to experience.

Dreamspeakers was a beautiful and important film festival to explore and experience, and though many of the films come from other parts of the world and Canada, or are set in other periods of time, they reflect real issues and cultures that are prevalent now, and are worthy of being heard and experienced.

Dreamspeakers Festival Society website

for Callum Hughes’ review of other movies in the 2021 Festival, click here.