Since its inception 17 years ago, the Montreal First People’s Festival has gone from being the new kid on the block to being an experienced and savvy festival operator that competes with the best of big boys in the crowded Montreal festival circuit while uniquely celebrating Indigenous artists.
Festival creator and organiser André Du Domaine says the festival originated in a desire to build awareness of Aboriginal realities in the era of the Oka crisis. With the “incomprehension and misunderstandings” that surrounded the 1990 confrontation, there was never a better time to start a festival of this nature, even though they had little funding.
Florent Voilant was there as was celebrated Rouyn-Noranda country-folk artist Richard Desjardins, before he made it big. Though various authors and local Aboriginal painters showed up for the fest’s inaugural weekend, giving it a very multidisciplinary approach, it was many years before the festival grew legs, began to focus on film and included a jury, becoming what it is today.
“The filmmakers themselves said that they needed the recognition,” said Du Domaine. “If we want to see progress we will need real recognition with a jury, they told me. At first we were not really happy with that as it was not how we saw things but in the end we decided, ‘Okay, lets do it!’ Now we do it and we like it!”
The festival has grown exponentially since then and is now a sprawling, two-week affair that features Indigenous filmmakers from all around the globe and a meeting of the minds with international media.
Du Domaine also spoke enthusiastically about how the themes in Aboriginal filmmaking have changed dramatically over the years and how it pertained to this year’s festival. “I think that the general theme of it is that the speech of the artists, their pitch, is no longer about being victims. This is now! We are looking towards the future,” he said.
As a younger generation of Indigenous filmmakers moves into the spotlight, absent is the focus on the separation from traditional life and the brutality that their parent’s generation experienced at the hands of colonisation. “They so easily look at the present that is sometimes very dark but looking at the present they show how much they want the future to be brighter,” Du Domaine explained.
The opening night’s feature film personified this whimsical, lighter approach to Aboriginal cinema in New Zealand Native Taika Cohen’s romantic comedy, Eagle Vs Shark.
Cohen, who is of Te-Whanau-a-Apanui descent, has crafted a laugh-out-loud feature film about two socially awkward misfits and the strange ways they try to find love; through revenge on high-school bullies, burgers, and video games. Though at times it becomes easy to draw comparisons between Eagle vs Shark and 2004’s cult indie classic Napoleon Dynamite due to some of the similarities between both of the male leads, Cohen’s soon to-be-a-hit-film (mark my words!) is still refreshingly humorous and has a wonderful message about self acceptance: it’s okay to be you. Even if you are a loser you can still find love!The Montreal First People’s Film Festival runs June 10-21 at various venues throughout the Montreal area. To find out more go to: www.nativelynx.qc.ca