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5 Circumpolar Indigenous Stories to Take in at TIFF this Fall

Sep 06, 2023
by IAQ

Content note: This article contains discussions of colonial violence, residential schools and domestic violence. Support is available 24 hours a day for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools and for those who may be triggered by content dealing with residential schools. The national crisis line for residential school survivors is 1-866-925-4419. Survivors and their families can also contact the Hope for Wellness Help Line toll-free at 1-855-242-3310. The team behind Tautuktavuk (What We See) have also compiled a list of support resources for viewers affected by domestic violence on their website.

The Toronto International Film Festival is often a launchpad for films from the North: serving as the stage for world premieres of works by Inuit filmmakers, and celebrating and awarding some of the most notable. 

This year, films about life in the Arctic by Indigenous women directors are particularly prominent: a new project by acclaimed Inuit filmmakers and actors Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk from Kingulliit Productions and Isuma Productions; a docu-series profiling 11 First Peoples throughout Quebec from Abenaki director Kim O’Bomsawin; and projects from Sámi directors Suvi West and Anssi Kömi, Katja Gauriloff and Sara Margrethe Oskal. For each of the films on this list, TIFF is an important first—whether it be the director’s first feature film or the film’s international premiere—an opportunity for these new works to reach global audiences and represent northern experiences.

Here are 5 circumpolar Indigenous stories featured in the festival’s lineup this year:


Homecoming (still) (2023)

Máhccan - Homecoming

Máhccan - Homecoming captures a pivotal moment in the museum world, where cultural institutions are reckoning with the colonial legacies of their collections. Co-directors Suvi West and Anssi Kömi, who worked together on the 2021 documentary Eatnameamet - Our Silent Struggle, take viewers behind the scenes of the repatriation process as thousands of everyday objects from the collection of the National Museum of Finland are transferred to the Sámi Museum and Nature Centre Siida, in Inari, Sápmi. The return of these spiritually significant Sámi objects marks the beginning of a path to healing collective sorrows. A story of hope and empowerment, Máhccan - Homecoming follows the objects’ journey home to Sápmi, while underscoring the pain that many sacred objects, especially drums, remain held in museum collections outside of Sápmi. The film has been the product of many levels of consultation, and in the lead-up to its theatrical release, the filmmakers arranged safe-space screenings so that members of the community could process and reflect on the film before it garners broader public attention. Máhccan - Homecoming will have its world premiere at TIFF on Friday, September 8 at the Scotiabank Theatre.




In this lyrical black-and-white film, Je’vida and her niece Sanna, near-strangers to one another, travel to northern Finland to clean out a house that they have inherited. Je’vida’s return to her childhood home as an adult compels her, despite her resistance, to confront the painful and shameful memories of her past: as a child, she was taken from her family under the forced assimilation policies of the Finnish government following the Second World War, forced to change her name to Iida and attend a state-run residential school for Indigenous children far away from her community. Through this difficult encounter with Je’vida’s suppressed history, the two women connect, rebuilding their understanding of their culture and roots. Directed and co-written by Katja Gauriloff—best known for her award-winning documentary Kajsa’s Enchanted Forest (2017) and her signature dreamlike melding of storytelling and history—Je’vida is the first feature film in the Skolt Sámi language. Gauriloff drew on family stories of a whole generation of Skolt Sámi as she crafted the screenplay, co-written with Niillas Holmberg, and its cast of non-professional actors are among a small population of Skolt Sámi speakers. Je’vida will have its Canadian premiere on Wednesday, September 13 at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto.



Telling Our Story (still) (2023)

Telling Our Story

This four-part documentary series showcases the stories, identities, worldviews and beliefs of the 11 First Peoples whose territories extend throughout Quebec and parts of New Brunswick, Ontario and Maine, including the Abenaki, Anishinaabe, Atikamekw, Cree of Eeyou Istchee, Innu, Inuit, Mi’kmaq, Kanien’kehá:ka, Naskapi, Huron-Wendat, and Wolastoqiyik (Maliseet). From award-winning Abenaki director Kim O’Bomsawin, Telling Our Story celebrates Indigenous resistance, resilience and revival by placing Indigenous voices at the centre of the story. O’Bomsawin and her team travelled tens of thousands of kilometres to speak with more than 100 people from more than 30 communities for this series, which is divided into four thematic episodes: Territory, Identity, Spirituality and Rebuilding. This series is part of a larger, multi-lingual transmedia project, Laissez-nous raconter/Telling Our Story, which includes podcasts, a website, exhibitions, educational guides and an immersive dome film for the Montreal Planetarium. The series also includes work by three young Indigenous illustrators: Eruoma Awashish, Saige Nalakwsis Mukash and Prim (Pasa Mangiok). The series, and the project as a whole, served as a massive training and mentorship opportunity with First Peoples filling all key positions from production, to research and post-production. Telling Our Story will have its English-language debut at TIFF on Friday, September 8. 


The Tundra Within Me (still) (2023)

The Tundra Within Me (Eallogierdu)

After living in Oslo for many years, contemporary artist Lena returns to her family home in Sápmi with her young son to undertake a residency involving female reindeer herders. A decision from Lena’s past still haunts her and makes it difficult to connect with the herders in her town as they question her intentions. The decision also interferes with a budding romance Lena develops with Mahtte, a male reindeer herder whose mother disapproves of their relationship. The Tundra Within Me (Eallogierdu) is the debut feature film from director and screenwriter Sara Margrethe Oskal, whose artistic career also spans literature, acting and playwriting. Oskal herself was raised in a reindeer-herding family, and reindeer herding formed the subject of her first poetry collection. Celebrated for her long artistic career, her pursuit of filmmaking is quite recent: her first short, Aurora Keeps an Eye on You, was released in 2015. The Tundra Within Me (Eallogierdu) will make its world premiere at TIFF on Friday, September 8.



Tautuktavuk (What We See) (still) (2023)

Tautuktavuk (What We See)

Tautuktavuk (What We See) cleverly and tenderly skirts the line between narrative and non-fiction. Co-directors Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk—two celebrated greats of Inuit film and TV, both in front of and behind the camera—drew on their own lives to create a film that brings Inuit women’s perspectives to the forefront. Set in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tautuktavuk (What We See) follows two sisters, played by Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk, as together they begin to process and recover from past and ongoing traumas. Tackling themes of family, trauma, isolation and community, Tautuktavuk (What We See) makes plain the reality of domestic violence for so many Inuit women. The filmmakers hope that this film will open up conversations about the pervasiveness of gendered violence in northern communities. Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk both have long careers in the film industry in Nunavut, and they have worked on some of the same films, including The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2004) as Assistant Director and Casting Director, respectively, but this is their first joint venture as co-directors. Tautuktavuk (What We See) will make its world premiere at TIFF on Friday, September 8 at the Scotiabank Theatre. 


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