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An Interview With Lindsay McIntyre

Oct 24, 2019
by Napatsi Folger

Lindsay McIntyre is a Canadian film artist of Inuk/settler Scottish descent working primarily with analog film. Her process-based works circles themes of portraiture, place, form and personal histories with strong links to Canada’s North. The IAQ's Contributing Editor Napatsi Folger spoke with McIntyre about her film project Bloodline, which will be on display at Art Toronto, the origins of the project and her artistic practice.

NF: Can you tell me about your work that will be displayed at Art Toronto?

LM: The work on display at Art Toronto is a long running film project that I made between 2007 and 2012. It's a series of five individual films that I made all about my maternal lineage and the story about my great-grandmother, Kumaa’naaq, who was taken from the north in 1936. The project is called Bloodline. The Marion Scott Gallery, which is from Vancouver, is showing them. You’ll be able to watch the films and you can buy the pieces either collectively or individually. I'll also be doing a couple of tours through the Art Toronto showroom floor with Marion Scott Gallery, and with Inuit Art Quarterly. This is going to be my first time at Art Toronto.

NF: Have your films been screened in Toronto before?

LM: My films have been screened in Toronto dozens of times. I do screenings and exhibitions and performances, but less gallery-oriented work. So this is a bit of a new thing for me to be showing a film at a more visual arts venue. I'm classically trained in the visual arts, painting and drawing, so that world is not unfamiliar to me. But I'm really excited about it. I'm also in Toronto to speak on a panel about changing industry standards in terms of Indigenous women working within the film industry at imagineNATIVE Film Festival, which is on at the same time.

NF: What are the titles of the five films in Bloodline?

LM: The films are called Though She Never Spoke, This is Where Her Voice Would Have Been, What She Would Not Leave Behind, Where No One Knew Her Name, Where She Stood in the First Place, and Her Silent Life. Her Silent Life is probably the biggest, and it is definitely the longest and most important of those five works. They all circle the same themes, but they all do so in relatively different ways. They're quite experimental in their approach, but Her Silent Life is the more accessible of them. Her Silent Life is the one that's a little bit more story driven. It's the one where you really get a sense of what happened in Kumaa’naaq’s story, rather than a more emotional, or visceral, exploration of some of the elements surrounding her leaving the north, and what that meant to our family.

NF: I understand that you now make a lot of your own emulsions, but these films are a little bit older, are they on analogue film or are they digital?

LM: One of the pieces was shot on digital video but most of everything that I do is shot on film. Some of them were finished to film as well. Having film in my hand, it's a really important part of my practice.

NF: Why do you choose film? Is it just that you prefer the look and feel of having it on film?

LM: I think because I started working as a visual artist. In fact, I spent a lot of time researching how the act of shooting film, like shooting 16mm film in a camera, could become closer to the act of drawing. In media, there’s such a connection between your hand and your eye. It's a really rewarding form to work in. I think, for me, it's really important to have materials in my hands. If I'm sitting at a computer, typing and clicking in buttons and editing in that fashion, it's not as satisfying a process for me.

NF: For the piece that you that you did on digital video how was that experience? Did you do it earlier, and then switch back to film?

LM: No, it just happened that way because it was something that I had access to at the time. I've made two pieces that were shot digitally. The other was a piece that I shot in the North, when I was in Qamanit'uaq. There was a woman that I wanted to make a portrait of, an Elder from the community, but there wasn't enough light in late November at Latitude 67 to shoot any of the film I shoot with—I mostly shoot on high contrast black and white stock, which means that I need an enormous amount of light to be able to expose it. And it was really challenging to get access to chemistry and finding spaces that were dark enough to be able to process. There were all kinds of challenges around using film, and I had a limited amount of time with her because she would just get so tired.

For me, film and video are not the same medium. They both capture images, but they are very different forms, and serve different purposes. If I was shooting a narrative film, I might choose digital, but most of my practice is embedded in the practice of analog film. When I chose to shoot with digital video, it made a massive difference. I had this incredibly powerful lens, which I would not normally have had access to in film. It felt very intrusive to have this much power with this video camera.

When I’m shooting digitally sometimes I'll shoot through melted glass or melted plastic, because I'm not interested in seeing the world in high definition. It’s a mean of wrecking the focal attention of the lens. In most of my work, that’s sort of the mark of me as maker in all of the things that I do. Not only in the decision of what to shoot and how to shoot it, because I'm operating the camera, but it's kind of like a one-woman machine. I’m writing, I'm hand-processing, I'm editing, and I'm doing sound. It's a lot more of an artisanal process than the traditional machine of filmmaking. You might think of needing to have a cinematographer and a sound recorder, all these separate people that help to put it together, but that's not typically the way that I make films.

NF: It’s really cool to hear about how much your visual art background has influenced your work as a filmmaker. Is that something that you are still doing now, with your current work? Because Bloodline is older, I’m wondering if you’ve changed the way you approach film making since those films were made.

LM: For some of the films I've made in the last couple of years I actually made the film stock that I shot. It's usually pretty important to me that the form of the film and the content of the film have some kind of an inter-relationship, which is present in several of the pieces of Bloodline. For some people they're not all that comfortable to watch. They're a lot of me talking about really heavy subject matter. It's a fairly traumatic story that informs the Bloodline series.

I am interested in form and content being related, and in most of my work, and I'm not usually happy, as an artist, unless it is. I made a film that is about hand-made emulsion, and it is made on hand-made emulsion. But if I had shot that digitally that would have felt kind of disingenuous to me.

I also just finished a new project that is this kind of monumental projection-mapping installation on the exterior of the Vancouver Art Gallery made for the Burrard Arts Group. They have a festival every few years called the Facade Festival where they commission ten artists to make a ten-minute-long piece that is projected on to the Georgia Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. It is a huge platform, it's a massive canvas. It was all analog in its origin, but because it was going to get mapped on to the building with 8K projectors, it was transferred to digital, and put together in a digital environment. But it still has that same feeling, that the film was actually in my hands.

I hand-processed all of it and I did all kinds of things to it after the fact. That film is about the residential school system. The piece that I'm doing now is very different. It's the same story as Bloodline, so I think that that's really relevant, but I'm actually making a narrative feature film.

NF: That’s really exciting, can you please tell me more about the process of making a feature?

LM: It's in the writing stage right now. I would like for it to be in Inuktitut and in English, and be shot partly in Nunavut and partly in Alberta, where the story takes place. I think there are some really important lessons, and some really relevant elements of story that would be important for people to learn about Kumaa’naaq’s experience. I made the films in Bloodline mostly for me. I made them as a way to process that information for myself, but this narrative feature is a way of bringing that story to a wider audience.

NF: Absolutely—very personal.

LM: My films are not necessarily nice to people, they're not nice to viewers that are looking to come and see them. One of them is a structural film where the film and the sound are never onscreen at the same time. They constantly interrupt one another, sometimes every frame, the sound and the image are hiccupping and interrupted, from one another, they never match up.

NF: Is that a technique you wanted to use to convey the emotions related to the content that's happening at that time?

LM: Very much so. That film, Though She Never Spoke, This is Where Her Voice Would Have Been, uses audio from this Fisher Price tape recorder that I carried around everywhere when I was a kid. I would use the tape recorder to record whatever was going on in my life. Sometimes I would record nonsense, sometimes I would make up songs, sometimes my little sister and I would scream, sometimes there would be recordings of my brother and a bunch of kids in the neighbourhood making up a fake news report. I need to give you a little bit more background on this; my great-grandmother Kumaa’naaq, came from the North in 1936 with an RCMP officer who wanted her for his wife. When I grew up in Edmonton, they were my family, they lived next door to me, their home was my home, and I spent a lot of time with them. In her later years, Kumaa’naaq almost never spoke. She sort of refused to speak for the last few years of her life, and this a kind of an important part of her story, and an important part of the story in Her Silent Life story. As a child, I recorded Kumaa’naaq telling a story and then within a matter of days, inadvertently recorded over it with more nonsense.

That was the only actual moving image or moving media memory or record of my great-grandmother's existence at all. There are lots of still pictures from the days in the north, and afterwards when they first came down to Edmonton, but there's no video, there's no record of her voice. And when I destroyed that, it really hit me.

In Though She Never Spoke, This is Where Her Voice Would Have Been, I was processing that destruction of the record of our family history was by having this disallowance of the image and the sound to exist together at the same time. The images are of these caribou teeth that she used to carry around with her. Some of the only things that she brought down from the North were these very essential sewing supplies, like her ulus, and her, needles, and beadwork, and things like that. These were the things that she found to be essential in 1936 when they came down. What kind of a life did she expect when she came down here? Did she come down here willingly? That's part of the story. Some people believe that she wanted a better life for her children. She brought her two youngest children with her, but she left six children in the North. There are different versions of the story, but most people, almost everybody thought that she was kidnapped. When the police tell you to do something, you do it. Regardless, I have to honour the choices that she made, to make my life better.

In terms of understanding the story, if you can only watch one film at Art Toronto, Her Silient Life is the one to watch.

NF: Are these films available online at all?

LM: They’re all on my website and on my Vimeo page.

NF: Thank you for talking to me about your work and this project, and for sharing your story.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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