Move to the beat of the dream, which is also the heart, which is also a drum.
The work of Alanis Obomsawin emerges from her life experience and a profound commitment to listening hard and hearing the hard truths that can surface in this process. Growing up in Canada in the middle of the 20th century, she was often faced with structures of disempowerment. Obomsawin has sought to carve out an alternate experience for her community by developing a model of filmmaking that captures humanity’s fullness.
Being in-relation is fundamental to the work of Obomsawin and this engenders fullness. If we consider the heart-drum as a way to measure relationships, then we are invited to consider relationships as being interdependent and bound to the potential of all beings: those that have gone before and those that are yet to come. No beat is heard alone, and it is this approach that clearly manifests the potential of Indigenous filmmaking. Continuing with this thinking, each of the four films included in this exhibition contain within them all the communities she has engaged with since beginning work at the National Film Board of Canada in 1967. That is to say, while each of these films tells a specific story of a specific place they also incite transformation that moves from the screen back into facets of life.
The facets of life we encounter in this selection of films navigate indisputable relationality: when this happens, that happens. In Poundmaker’s Lodge: A Healing Place (1987) we are presented with the deep impact of an Indigenous-run addiction and mental health facility; in Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), we are provided with a critical Indigenous view of an illegal occupation of land; Sigwan (2005), follows a young girl as she experiences alienation and reconnection with non-human relatives; We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice (2016) provides insight into inequities of the care system as it follows a decade-long court case filed by the Assembly of First Nations and the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada against the federal government of Canada.
Starkly opposed to the dehumanisation that happens through colonial violence—as experienced in Canada and in Aotearoa New Zealand—Obomsawin enacts the full potential of meaningful relationships to galvanise educators, healthcare providers, families, and politicians to reconsider ingrained hegemonic, often disembodied, value systems. When we reflect on processes of administration—of accessing and participating in life—what value systems are serviced by these and which aren’t? Does this value system reflect, not even so much who we are, but who we wish to be? In this act of galvanising, Obomsawin fuses the sense of resistance unequivocally with the capacity of healing in order to play her beat. The beat she plays is: this world can be just, this world can be just.