Alanis Obomsawin listening to the sacred word

She is leaving this Thursday for Toronto, which pays tribute to her, in addition to devoting a retrospective to her on digital media from September 11 to 18. Alanis Obomsawin will also launch her latest documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on the big screen. Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair. This festival, she finds that it has spoiled it throughout the years, highlighting film on film of its trajectory and offering it many nods. “But this is my first retrospective. Old films will be shown. It pleases her from the bottom of her heart.

During the pandemic confinement, the octogenarian Abenaki filmmaker confesses to having been afraid of being bored. “But it was quite the opposite,” she reveals. I kept so many audio and visual archives for unfinished projects, interviews, filming. It was incredibly rich. Before filming, I first record vocal accounts of people in their language. Some were from around 40 years old. Some people were dead, others survive. While diving into all this material, I often bawled. I want to return to these communities, because the word is sacred to me and these are historical documents. I feel responsible for these legacies. I have made eight films of it since the pandemic, six of which have already been edited. “

53 films in 54 years of career, a permanence at the National Film Board of Canada (NFB): The realities of the natives, their social anguish, the infamous boarding schools which wanted to whitewash them, the treaties which will have infantilized and betrayed them, their art, their traditions, their spirituality, their hopes, their struggles, the education of children, she will have testified to the First Nations from all angles and seams.

The young Abenaki first singer, survivor of racist insults, will have become in the documentary one of the major spokespersons of peoples, whose condition seemed at the beginning almost desperate. “It is by dint of seeing the Aboriginals being called savages, ignorant and inferior in the history books of Canada, that I revolted,” she assures us. Today across the country, hearing the majority of Canadians want justice to be done for us, I am happy to have lived a long time to see that. To retire? No time for that. There is so much to say and to show. “

To look forward

And if many remind her of the impact of her films on Kanesatake’s red summer, which won her 18 awards around the world, she is especially moved by addressing the fate of her 1986 documentary: Richard Cardinal: The cry of a Métis child. Carried around Edmonton in 28 foster homes, cut off from his roots because the Aboriginals could not adopt the children of their communities, the young man hanged himself at the age of 17 after having written his story down. “The film caused such a scandal, reported by journalists,” recalls Alanis Obomsawin, “that adoption laws have changed in favor of Aboriginal adoptive families in Alberta. I was really encouraged by seeing this strength of the documentary. “

These cemeteries hidden with children buried under the building, we knew of their existence, but no one listened to us

Honour to Senator Murray, his film launched at TIFF, is a tribute to a remarkable Anichinabe lawyer from Manitoba, who became a judge and then a senator during the reign of Justin trudeau, who chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, revealing the appalling reality of residential schools. And her voice of wisdom during her powerful acceptance speech for the WFM – Canada World Peace Award, which Alanis Obomsawin was able to film at McGill University in 2016, sounds like a song of hope and an invitation to change things. . In addition to the film, archival documents illustrating the injustices suffered throughout history under the government of the Canadian state, moving testimonies of residential school survivors.

Education has become the spearhead of his work. The First Nations came from so far away. She will have visited schools since the 1960s, the Abenaki filmmaker, including these boarding schools where young natives kidnapped from their parents were beaten if they spoke their language. “These cemeteries hidden with children buried under the building, we knew of their existence, but no one listened to us. We were taken for liars. And today… There is money released for the natives. Speaking their language is now encouraged. So many young people are making beautiful films about our peoples. A relief rises. If I die tomorrow, others will be up. “


Alanis Obomsawin is overwhelmed by tributes. She has received so many career awards, including the Iris at Québec Cinéma and the Glenn Gould Prize, among others, in 2020. This foundation will organize outdoor screenings in Toronto in October in honor of the filmmaker. In Berlin, a new retrospective of her works is scheduled for January 2022 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which will also release a book on her in four languages: German, English, French and Abenaki. “I’m still alive and so many people honor me,” she exclaims. But what matters most to him is to return to the indigenous communities of the country to perfect his work from memory. A memory that she has longer than her own life.

If I die tomorrow, others will be up

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