Edmonton Dreamspeakers Film Festival finds strength in culture
Edmonton’s Dreamspeakers Film Festival is not known for skirting big issues of our time. In fact, executive director Christine Frederick explains that every year she’s amazed at how courageous filmmakers are in their selections.
“It becomes extremely important in this time of renewal, this time of reconciliation, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” she says. “A larger awareness of the damaging effects of colonialism on indigenous people the world over.”
When Dreamspeakers began in 1993, many of the films explored raising awareness and generating education about human rights violations experienced by indigenous people. Now, the films are about reconstructing a culture that, in many cases, was once nearly lost.
“Many of the colonialistic structures were meant to strip us of our identity and of our culture,” she says. “So when we practice that art again, we’re rebuilding our culture.”
Filmmakers are also delving into important issues such as environmentalism and climate change—accounting for Standing Rock’s impact and similar situations close to home in the past year. Many of the films and submissions for this year’s festival use these events to discuss the increasing violence against women in Canada and the sweeping counter-movement regarding missing and murdered indigenous women.
Another topic that some of the films touch on is the connection between generations, something that has proven useful in rebuilding lost culture.
“In the last 200 years, one of the common threads of our experiences has been the separation of families and the separation of generations certainly through the Indian Act and residential schools,” Frederick says.
Dreamspeakers’ filmmakers have made some of those connections by sharing elder knowledge and traditions in their pieces. Before the Streets stood out for its beautiful illustration of cultural integrity.
Québecois filmmaker Chloé Leriche created the film that not only exhibits beauty, but strength in a raw and realistic setting.
Before the Streets tells the story of Shawnouk, a young Atikamekw teen who gets involved in an armed robbery that goes wrong. Despondent and scared, he flees into the forest of Québec, returning to his Atikamekw roots to cleanse his soul.
Rather than focusing on absence and dismal conditions, Leriche paints a picture of wisdom and durability. Part of how she portrays this is by filming in two languages: Atikamekw and French, Leriche’s native tongue. In fact, the project is the first feature film shot in the language of Atikamekw.
Many of the actors Leriche chose were not professional actors. This was a result of Leriche having to choose between non-Atikamekw and potentially non-indigenous actors, or the untrained Atikamekw artists she came to know. Rykko Bellemare, who plays Shawnouk, is actually drummer, singer and manager of Northern Voice, a musical group from Wemotaci, a First Nations reserve in Québec.
“There is no denying that the performances are powerful,” Frederick says. “They have a gravitas that is poignant, atmospheric and beautiful.”
Nearly 10 years ago, Leriche met some Atikamekw boys while working on a separate project. Working with them, she discovered some of the horrors they faced growing up with suicide and death readily nearby.
Originally, she intended to make a film about the difficulties faced by the young boys she met, but quickly realized how much self-esteem the boys lacked. Seeing how much her film could help these boys, she switched her idea and rewrote the script. Choosing local artists seemed to be a perfect fit, creating something that accurately portrayed their own culture, as well as bringing strength to the boys she first met.
“Those are people that already know the importance of their nations and how to portray it,” Leriche says. “I wanted to not be the outsider that tells them what’s good for their nation, but to make sure that I could have an internal point of view.”
The impact is felt as soon as the filmmakers being researching, but it continues when people share in the process and see the films. Frederick says it’s expected now at the festival that viewers will leave with an interesting discussion to follow.
Thu., Sept. 21 (7 pm)
Dreamspeakers Film Festival
Before the Streets directed by Chloe Leriche
Metro Cinemas ($15)