Call them the little festival that could, despite hard times, financial woes and a lifetime of living in the shadows of other major Montreal festivals, Land InSights, the Montreal First People’s Festival, is celebrating its 20th anniversary in a big way.
In the last few years the First People’s festival has faced a lot of difficulty, having had its funding pulled by the federal government at the last minute and dealing with the consequences.
This year, looking to go bigger and better than ever, the festival has restructured itself, changing locations and moving the outdoor portion of its event from June to August.
According to festival organizer André Dudemaine, though the reorganization was not ideally what the festival set out to do, the result might turn out for the better.
In previous years, the June festival’s outdoor events were held in Parc Émilie-Gamelin (corner of Berri and Ste-Catherine E.), but this posed a number of problems as Montreal police would often force many of the city’s itinerant from the downtown core into that area. The park was also riddled with other problems, such as broken equipment and the fact that it is outside of the downtown core and tourist areas.
Looking to give the festival a better image, Dudemaine decided to see if Montreal’s brand new Place des Festivals could become its new home. But the city gave the June slots to the FrancoFolie festival, despite previous promises.
After meeting with a consultant, Dudemaine and his team decided to make a second bid for the state-of-the-art festival space but in August, just in time for World Indigenous Day on August 9. This time the city came through.
From August 4-8, the First People’s Festival will now be joining the ranks of FrancoFolie, the Jazz Festival and Just for Laughs as a world-class event in the heart of the city’s glamorous festival district.
“I did not want to move out of the downtown core because I wanted to make a statement about how the Aboriginal people are not marginal. They are not to be put out of the mainstream when they are supposed to be part of the mainstream. We are Canada’s original people and our culture is the original culture of this country,” said Dudemaine.
The date and location change has come with another bonus – it has now opened the festival up to new funding potential from tourism budgets from municipal, provincial and federal bodies along with funding from some independent groups. Added to this, August is vacation time for Europeans who flock to Montreal for their downtime and have a thirst for Aboriginal culture.
Though Dudemaine stated he could not confirm anything about the August dates, he said to expect a visually stunning layout, daytime traditional activities featuring arts and crafts, dancing and music and live music on a big stage at night.
What is also different from last year is that the bulk of the festival’s indoor programming will be take place in the ExCentris complex and at Cinéma du Parc, north of Sherbrooke St.
The festival will hold the majority of its film and video screenings, along with a theatrical performance, at ExCentris from June 17-28 and, because the festival is happening at the same time as the blowout St-Laurent Sidewalk Sale (June18-19), there is a possibility for outdoor film screenings under the stars.
Dudemaine said the festival will host some programming for National Aboriginal Day on June 21, beginning with a traditional ceremony at Botanical Gardens. However, the rest of the program for the national celebration has yet to be confirmed.
This year’s festival will have several major events for its 20th anniversary, starting with Xajoj Tun Rabinal Achi, a theatrical piece based on ancient Mayan texts that have been transmitted orally for generations. The festival will also have a special opening night in conjunction with CBC Radio 2 and Radio Canada’s Espace musique in French, English and Cree that will feature Élisapie Isaac, Michel Faubert, Samian, Robert Seven-Crows and Mary-Jane Lamond.
There’s a special retrospective of the films of Anastasia Lapsui, a Nenetsit woman from a First Nation in western Siberia. Plus, the festival will serve as a launching pad for a 16-month-long photography show at La Bibliothéque Nationale entitled Matshinanu: Nomades. It will feature enlarged shots of the Innu people over the course of history from an artistic perspective that will likely be seen by three million people.
Though Dudemaine said he is currently looking to tie up loose ends by acquiring the final amount of funding needed to pull off the festival in its entirety as well as booking the final acts and artists for the shows, he is excited and hopes that his exuberance will be contagious.