Filmmaking is an art form that’s fairly new to indigenous creatives. It seems as if only within the past few decades have Native producers, directors, and writers emerged as autonomous agents from the stereotypical noble savages and Wild West Indians of the Hollywood film industry. Through its singular and long-standing commitment to Aboriginal filmmaking, the National Film Board has been instrumental in providing Canadians a rich cultural resource and legacy: a comprehensive body of films inviting us all to share in the Aboriginal experience. Throughout the course of a number of NFB initiatives, the Aboriginal Voice has evolved.
Below is the first Inuktitut language feature but also the most important film in Canadian history, bringing epic filmmaking to a Northern legend. It won Official Selection at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival and remains the highest grossing indigenous film in Canadian history.
Canada’s screen industry has yet to fully leverage one of the richest cultural resources this country has to offer — the stories of Aboriginal people. The stories and perspectives of Aboriginal people are vibrant, distinct and uniquely Canadian. The proliferation of Aboriginal stories and perspectives has a vital outcome — it enables Canada to carve out a new legacy that celebrates and includes Indigenous stories and perspectives. Our nation’s colonial history has created social and economic challenges unique to Aboriginal peoples and has impacted cultural expression. Fostering Aboriginal stories and perspectives on screen enables Canada to forge a new era of inclusion and recognition of the Aboriginal storytellers who shape our cultural landscape and re-elect the diversity of our nation.
Angry Inuk is a 2016 film made by Inuit film-maker Alathea Arnaquq-Baril. The film depicts the challenges facing the Inuit seal hunters after European-settler animal rights activist groups such as PETA, Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd call for a boycott against Canadian seal fur. Many Inuit hunters made an income back in the days before animal activists by selling seal furs to European fashion designers.
Arnaquq-Baril points out that anger is not an emotion that Inuit exhibit towards other humans. Inuit society relies on cooperation and tolerance. Watching the film, you can see Arnaquq-Baril’s frustration rise as she attempts to secure a meeting with these animal rights activists so that she can convey the economic suffering her culture is going through due to the fur boycott. Her attempts to invite them to come see her in the Arctic are all rejected. She asks, “How can these non-Inuit understand the seal hunt, if they have never come to the community to talk with us or ask questions?” Arnaquq-Baril begins to use technology to get her message out.
An Inuit mother caused a Twitter-storm when she took a photo of her infant lying next to a seal freshly killed in a hunt. Arnaquq-Baril uses social media to get the word out that any Inuit should use Twitter or Instagram to post photos showing how the seal hunt is important to the Inuit. She labelled these photos “Sealfies”. The film is an excellent window to Inuit culture and beliefs. This film is an excellent example of how today’s Indigenous population can use modern media to get their message out to the wider world. The film is available at the National Film Board website for free (streaming only), but is also available for purchase at an educational institution rate.
This site provides the history of Aboriginal Voice, which is a program that saw Aboriginal films be created by Aboriginal people. The rationale behind the program is summed up in a 1972 letter:
“There was a strong feeling among the filmmakers at the NFB that the Board had been making too many films “about” the Indian, all from the white man’s viewpoint. What would be the difference if Indians started making films themselves?” [Letter from George Stoney, executive producer, Challenge for Change, January 3, 1972]
The site includes six NFB films made by First Nations peoples. The films explore contemporary social and political issues from across Canada, including a film about Haisla people reclaiming a stolen artefact and a film documenting the confrontation between First Nations fishermen and the federal government in Burnt Church, New Brunswick.