Sunday, August 11, 2013

Présence Autochtone

Last year, at Planet IndigenUs, I was lucky enough to meet André Dudemaine, an Innu man from Montréal, and director of the Festival Présence Autochtone there.  We'd actually known of one another and corresponded for longer - André wrote a piece on Alanis Obomsawin for our first Origins Festival programme - but meeting in person is always a big step forward....  and our discussions in Toronto led to my being invited to André's festival last week.

Unlike either Origins or Planet IndigenUs, the Montréal festival focuses primarily on film, which happened to be very useful to me, as we're coming to the end of programming Origins 2013, and the film programme is now the last bit of the jigsaw.  It meant that there were some serious experts on indigenous film around - I was able to spend time with Jason Ryle, who programmes ImagineNATIVE, and Elizabeth Weatherford, who heads the film section at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.  It's one thing to get your own impression of a film at a screening - it's something else to discuss it with people who have that depth of knowledge.  They also proved the ideal companions to sample one of the Festival's other innovations - indigenous gastronomy....  The six-course tasting menu convinced me that food is not only central to First Nations culture, but is also an art form in its own right.  I've been thinking about ways of bringing food to the centre of our own festival -  and this approach helped the thinking!

The trip was also a chance to renew our relationship with Canada's extraordinary National Film Board: an organisation which has been leading the way in film for years.  I discovered on this trip that they developed synchronised sound and IMAX technology...  But what is really important about the NFB is its democratic function.  It gives a solid base for remarkable film-makers like Alanis - and allows them to be publicly funded in order to criticise the government and the society.  That, Ms. Miller, is what public funding of culture should be all about.

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