• Feature

The Circumpolar Indigenous Events to See at ImagineNATIVE 2023

Oct 17, 2023
by IAQ

ImagineNATIVE welcomes new and returning Indigenous filmmakers in a 2023 edition that showcases their work across 11 short film programs and 14 feature films which will be on view both in person and virtually. Home, family and kinship are themes that run through this year’s gatherings, with the curatorial vision put forward by Festival Director Lindsay Monture and Executive Director Naomi Johnson emphasizing the theme of homecoming. “As we were doing this work,” they write in their Curatorial Vision statement, “we found that a constant mantra for all involved in the planning of this year was ‘Let’s make our spaces feel like visiting grandma/totah/kookum.’” Read on to learn more about the circumpolar Indigenous films and events at this year’s festival.

Short Film Programs

This year’s festival features circumpolar creators in a number of short film programs, including the Arctic Indigenous Witness Short Film Series. The product of a training program developed by the Arctic Indigenous Film Fund and Telefilm Canada, this series brings together shorts by six directors from Alaska, Canada, Kalaallit Nunaat, Sápmi and Sakha. Over the course of the training program, participants created 3–5 minute works that reflected on their home communities, with a focus on the impacts and lived realities of climate change. This year’s series includes films by Dennis M. (Kalaallit Nunaat), Svetlana Romanova (Sakha), Isaac Partridge (Inuit Nunangat), Hansa Pieski (Sapmi), Kawahine Danner (Alaska), and Sadetlo Scott (Canada). Catch this special screening premiering at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on October 18 at 9:15pm.

The festival directors’ thematic approach is evident across many of the short film screenings, which address familial relationships, matriarchal lines, queer kinship and care. Sámi director Sara Margrethe Oskal’s musical short, Rieban - The Fox (2023), which combines rap and traditional joiking, screens as part of For the Grandbabies, the festival’s first short film program, in a sensory friendly screening on October 18 and 22, and as a virtual screening on October 23. Darcy Tara McDiarmid and Chantal Rousseau’s animated short, Starlight Sojourn (2023), is also featured in For the Grandbabies, and uses natural soundscapes to highlight Yukon wildlife traversing through the night. Lindsay McIntyre’s short film Nigiqtuq (The South Wind) (2023)—which follows a mother and daughter in the 1930s responding to the pressure to assimilate after relocating to the South—premieres in program 3: A Mother’s Love on October 18, which also includes Sakha director Ayaal Adamov’s AYKUO (2023). Meanwhile, Anchorage-based Iñupiaq and Mexican filmmaker Alexis Anoruk Sallee’s short series celebrating Indigenous LGBTQ2S+ people and families, Dear Kin (2023), screens on October 19 as part of program 5: Queerdom. Sámi director Liselotte Wajstedt’s short, Mother (EADNI) (2022), on nature, mythology and mother–daughter relationships, is included in program 10: Long Line of Ladies on October 22.  

Other programs probe grief, loss and fear. Program 7: Witching Hour explores these concepts through the lens of surreal and supernatural horror. The program includes Sámi visual artist Eili Bråstad’s Skádja (2022), a queer, Indigenous story which centres on two women who meet and form a powerful bond. Inga Elin Marakatt’s directoral and screenwriting debut, Unborn Biru (2023) also appears in Witching Hour. Inspired by a true story, the short follows a poor, pregnant widow’s desperate attempts to survive and feed her daughter and unborn child, which leads her to steal cursed silver from a dead body. Also included in this program is Cu-Ckoo (2023), a short film by Yakut director Evgeny Nikolaev, which follows a Yakut man who moves into an abandoned house and begins to witness strange, inexplicable events. Witching Hour is a free screening on Oct 20, showing at 11:59 pm—just at the start of the spookiest hour.

The festival’s concluding short film program, Embracing Loss, focuses on the myriad of ways grief can be experienced and processed. Featured in this program is Megan Kyak-Monteith’s animated short, Grape Soda in the Parking Lot (2023), which centres on Inuk artist and writer, Taqralik Partridge. The film shares memories of Partridge’s childhood as it traces the loss of her grandmother’s Scottish Gaelic and her father’s Inuktitut languages to English. 

Feature Film: TautuktavukOctober 18 at 5:00 PM (TIFF Bell Lightbox) and October 23 at 12:00 AM (Virtual)

Carol Kunnuk and Lucy Tulugarjuk’s Tautuktavuk (What We See) (2023), presented in Inuktitut, draws from the directors’ lives to tell a moving story of two sisters: Uyarak and Saqpinak. After a traumatic event in Igloolik, NU, Uyarak leaves her family and closest friend, eldest sister Saqpinak, to live in Montréal, QC. Their separation is intensified when the COVID-19 pandemic strikes, and lockdown closes off the Canadian Arctic from the rest of the world. 

Set during this tumultuous time, the film tells the story of these two sisters—played by Kunnuk and Tulugarjuk themselves—almost entirely through video chats. As Uyarak and Saqpinak work to maintain their relationship despite distance and isolation, the film explores difficult discussions of trauma and healing that blur the lines between the characters and the filmmakers playing them. An Official Selection at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, Tautuktavuk (What We See) was presented The Amplify Voices Award for Best BIPOC Canadian First Feature film, which recognizes under-represented filmmakers in Canada.


Tarralik Duffy
Fresh Pop (2023) mural at Onsite Gallery in Toronto, ON

Art CrawlOctober 18 at 4:00 PM

In addition to film screenings, imagineNATIVE is also collaborating with established and locally-run galleries on their annual Art Crawl. This guided tour presents exhibitions featuring Indigenous artists “who continue to push the boundaries and expectations of what Indigenous storytelling is.” This sprawling event will see stops at A Space Gallery, Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Bachir Yerex, Museum of Art at University of Toronto, Onsite Gallery, Trinity Square Video, Vtape and YYZ Artists’ Outlet. 

Be sure to look for IAF at Onsite Gallery, where you can see Tarralik Duffy’s mural Fresh Pop (2023) and pick up a free tote bag.

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