In most cases today, documentaries are made on videotape and screened for television on video. In some cases, a film print of a documentary is made for the festival circuit, as in the case of my NFB film Okimah. One of the reasons that film print was made was to have it available for screening at a film festival.
Film festivals are basically weeklong events that screen films/ videos to a specific audience and held in various communities across the continent. There are the bigger film festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival, Cannes, and Sundance. But there are also many smaller ones, such as ImagineNative in Toronto, Land-Insights in Montreal and countless others. The most recent one being the Weeneebeg Aboriginal Film and Video Festival in Moose Factory, which I am putting on from March 3 to 9,2003.
These festivals are a great opportunity to showcase your work to a wider audience, usually an audience that appreciates film. Film and video projects have to submitted to festivals by the producers or filmmakers to be screened during these events. Now, Okimah was submitted to numerous festivals and only ended up being accepted only to eight festivals, Vancouver International Film Festival, Sudbury Film Festival, Aboriginal Voices Festival in Toronto, San Francisco American Indian Film Festival, New York Indian Film Festival, Far North Film Festival in Yellowknife, Documentarier Film and Video Festival in Montreal and Landlnsights also in Montreal.
Although Okimah was accepted at the above mentioned festivals, I only attended the ones in Montreal, Sudbury, Toronto, Vancouver and New York.
Going to a film festival is a great opportunity to show your film to a live audience, introduce it and answer some questions regarding the making of the film or the issue raised in your film. It was interesting to see a general reaction to the film: people were impressed by its portrayal of a traditional way of life in contemporary times. Others found it too slow, other found it educational. One reaction I noticed was how different it was to a non-Cree speaking audience vs a Cree audience.
I had originally showed the film in Moose Factory before it went into the festival circuit. The screening at the Ministik School gym was packed and the community even had a community feast before the screening. The home audience reacted with amazement and laughter in the right places. The majority of the home audience understood what my dad was saying in Cree and laughed along with him on some of his stories. But when I showed the same film with an non-Native audience in the south, they did not laugh as much, as they only had to rely on the subtitles of my dad’s stories.
This is a classical example of how translating and using subtitles for the Cree language takes a lot away from the viewing experience for those who don’t know the language. I guess this is what happens when I watch an Italian or Spanish film with subtitles, the subtlety and expression of the Cree language can easily get lost in the translation.
So basically, during the festivals you also have the opportunity to make other filmmakers, mingles, make connections, and look for your next job. It a very refreshing and rewarding experience to attend a film festival, especially meeting other filmmakers who are in the same boat as you are. It’s also a great time to exchange ideas, stories and business cards. The best film festival I went to was the New York Indian Film Festival which was held at the American Indian Museum in New York City, a few blocks away from what was the World Trade Center. I met some other Canadians, but other Native American filmmakers from throughout the States and Spanish people from Central and South America.
I also had to opportunity to see some great films done by other Aboriginal filmmakers from around the world. It’s great to see their work and how they do their own stories, just like I do my own stories. It was great to see those works and meet the filmmakers themselves.
These festivals are not what they are cracked up to be in most cases. For one thing, you aren’t the only one showing your film.
You sometimes see some high profile filmmakers or actors or directors and you feel left out. At the Vancouver festival I actually saw some of the actors from X Files TV show. Those larger events can be overwhelming, but it helps to have a artist liaison working and helping you out so you don’t feel lost. In the case of Okimah, the National Film Board had their own PR (press representatives) at the festivals, pushing the film and setting up interviews and so forth. I did some radio spots and a CTV interview at the Vancouver festival.
Of all the film festivals that Okimah was submitted to, it only won one award at the Far North Film Festival in Yellowknife where it was named “Best of the Fest.” But I did not attend that one at all. It was too bad. I could have picked up the award instead of it being mailed to me. A plaque and a gift came as the award. With this award, I can call myself, “an award-winning director!!” And why not?
Usually a film or video has a one-year shelf life on the festival circuit before it’s broadcast on TV and hits the video sales. Okimah was eventually shown on VISION TV and APTN in 1990. It’s still sometimes shown over the years. And it’s also being sold on videotape through the National Film Board of Canada video library.
My experience of showcasing my film was excellent, especially the one in my home town of Moose Factory, I was honored to be acknowledged for the work I do in filmmaking. I think sometimes in communities up north there is a lack of recognition placed on the artists that excel in their profession. We tend to acknowledge our own Native teachers, nurses, lawyers and politicians. But I still think that there needs to be a acknowledgement of the artists who are contributing to their communities and people who are raising issues through their films. And that is one of the reasons why I will be putting on the Weeneebeg Aboriginal Film and Video Festival in Moose Factory.
I hope this festival will be the start of an annual event for the community, to showcase the work of filmmakers that come from the James Bay region. There are quite a few of them, and will be attending the event in Moose Factory. It’s an opportunity for some of them to return home after leaving to work outside the community and it’s also a chance for the people in town to meet and talk to them. Hopefully, it may inspire some young people to follow in the footsteps of the invited filmmakers.
Paul M. Rickard is a filmmaker from Moose Factory, Ontario who has been involved in filmmaking for over 15 years. He directed Okimah and produced the series Finding Our Talk for APTN, which will be showcased at the Weeneebeg Aboriginal Film and Video Festival in Moose Factory. In the next issue Paul will discuss becoming an independent filmmaker and starting up his own company, Mushkeg Media Inc. For more information about the Weeneebeg festival in Moose Factory, check out the ad in this issue or call (705) 658-6987 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org