Team Talk - Clea: Our trip to ImagineNative Film Festival, Toronto. Part 1


ImagineNative is the world's largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. Now in its 18th year, imagineNative selects a diverse range of indigenous produced and focused feature films, shorts, web series and other digital media and screens them over a five day festival that includes industry panels and special events. Artist Paitangi, Production Manager Shirley and Web Designer / Content Strategist Clea attended in support of He Ao Kotahi - Pai in Palestine, which screened in the digital media section of the festival. 

Do you want to go to Toronto for ImagineNative? Paula typed me in an email. YEEEEESSSSSSS! I replied immediately. Then I remembered I had a four year old who probably wouldn't take well to being left to fend for himself with a packet of sakatas and a bowl of water so the next few days were spent frantically finding family to help look after him (Shoutout to his awesome Dad and Nana for last minute preps) and then it was all systems go. 

Child-free 8am pre-flight cocktail? Don't mind if I do. 

Child-free 8am pre-flight cocktail? Don't mind if I do. 

After 21 hours of uninterrupted in flight movies (to the other parents out there - you know how good this is), a stopover in the twilight zone that is LA airport, and absolutely no sleep, I landed in Toronto. I was really excited to finally meet up with Shirley and Pai.  Ive known Paitangi for a couple of years and Shirley since signing on to do the web design for He Ao Kotahi but because I'm based in Sydney Australia, I only get to communicate with these guys via skype or facebook messenger so I was really looking forward to meeting face to face, and immediately it felt like we'd known each other forever. We talked non stop as we made our way to central Toronto. 


We were sad that our producer extraordinaire Paula wasn't with us, but on the flip-side at least we didn't have anyone to guilt us out at our first event for the trip which was an informal gathering that very evening at the home of former imagineNative board members Giselle and Archer. We were all looking forward to the promise of traditional indigenous foods including Roast Moose, Bison and Elk. Paula, being vegetarian, sent us photos of majestic roaming Elk and Moose, hoping to convince us to refrain (no chance). The Moose and Elk really do look cool, they're neat animals. They are also delicious. 



We chatted to a lot of interesting (and equally jet-lagged) people travelling from other countries. From Finland we met musicians Milla and Matti who were screening the video for a new song made by their band Ravggon. Ravggon is a Sámi folk-rock band from Vuotso, the Finnish part of Sámiland. Milla sings in her native Sámi tongue and they use a lot of natural sounds and self made instruments. One of the tracks includes the sound of Milla and her Mother doing a Yoik which is a traditional form of Sámi song. When I later read to understand more about what a Yoik is, I found it fascinating. As with so much of art and music, it isn't just an experience, it is an insight into the heart and soul of the people who create it. 

....A yoik is not merely a description; it attempts to capture its subject in its entirety: it's like a holographic, multi-dimensional living image, a replica, not just a flat photograph or simple visual memory. It is not ABOUT something, it IS that somethingThe Yoik can serve as a tool for sharing memories, for community building (both within a family and within society as a whole), for personal self-expression, to calm the reindeer or frighten the wolves, or even to transport one between worlds. The regular concept of a western European song is that it has a start, a middle and an ending. In that sense, a song will have a linear structure. A Yoik seems to start and stop suddenly. It hasn't a start or neither an ending. The structure of a Yoik thus follows the Sámi worldview of "No beginning, no end". Sámi see the world as following the circular patterns of nature...

Historically, Sámi people were pressured from the surrounding states, Denmark-Norway, Sweden-Finland and Russia who attempted to enroach on Sámi areas and dominate and extinguish the Sámi way of life, traditions, culture and language. Today Sámi have carved out autonomy for themselves within their homelands and Milla and I spoke of the revitilisation process of each of our native languages. Milla told me that the language nests that were established in the last several years to help revitalise Sámi language were modeled on our own Kohanga Reo. You can check out more about Milla and Matti’s band Ravggon here

We also met Sam, who works for Inuit production company Isuma. Inuit are the indigenous peoples of the Arctic regions of Greenland, Canada and Alaska. Isuma produces independent community-based media aimed to preserve and enhance Inuit culture and language, and to tell authentic Inuit stories to Inuit and non-Inuit audiences worldwide. 


It was so interesting to talk to Sam about the challenges that must be overcome to produce, distribute and screen indigenous content across the Arctic. Solutions have to be arrived at for everything including film equipment built to function in sub zero temperatures or ice and snow conditions, how to access remote widely flung small communities, the cost of transporting equipment and people when round trips from Quebec to Nunavut are approximately 4500 Canadian Dollars, the challenges of broadcasting when internet, phone and cable connections are severely limited to non existent. And yet they do it admirably. In fact the movie considered Canadas greatest of all time, Atarnajuat, was produced by Isuma and Innuit filmaker Zaccarias Kunuk. Atarnajuat is an Inuit story and was the first feature film ever to be written, directed and acted entirely in the Inuktitut language. Isuma TV's website showcases some of their documentaries, feature films and shorts for viewing. Click here to view IsumaTV

Our last treat for the night was a song from one of our hosts Archer. Archer is a performance artist, new media artist, filmmaker, writer, curator and educator of Cree ancestry. Drumming on a traditional hand drum and singing in his Native language, it was my first experience of live Indigenous Canadian song, and like a Yoik, it was very different to our own song forms and western song forms. Only the beat created structure while the vocals were organic, and without being able to properly understand the form we were able to just listen and experience. It very much spoke to the soul. What a beautiful way to end a great evening. 

As we made our way home to finally get some sleep I thought about how awesome this trip was proving to be, even though we hadn't even been in Toronto for a day. ImagineNative is an important hub for cultures to come together and gain new experiences, knowledge and connections with one another. One of ImagineNatives stated goals is "valuing, acknowledging and respecting diversity and striving towards dispelling stereotypical notions of Indigenous peoples through diverse media presentations" and this is something I really appreciated as I met our new friends at dinner; finally seeing in one place native cultures who were at the core of the event, who blend both the modern and traditional, who represent their vibrant, living culture in many and various ways. And although I'm thoroughly embedded in the digital world and love the convenient access to information we have online and through media channels, still nothing beats actually being there physically, sharing and conversing.  Kanohi ki te kanohi. 

Team TalkClea Pettit