Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival lifts memory of the children

·3 min read

The 2021 Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF) is responding to the discovery of unmarked graves at former Indian Residential School sites with an Every Child Matters festival theme.

“A lot of stories flow from the policies that the government had inflicted upon Indigenous people to erase their history,” said Jim Compton, who programs the Festival alongside WAAF founder Coleen Rajotte.

Films at the online Festival this year (November 24 to December 1) uncover the “angst, and the hurt, and also the healing that comes out of these stories,” he says.

The WAAF website calls this year’s theme “a way to honour the children who didn’t make it home.”

It’s WAAF’s 20th anniversary, and the second year it’s been online due to COVID-19. Using Eventive, a streaming platform tailored for virtual film festivals, WAAF will premiere 41 feature-length films and shorts, all from Indigenous filmmakers from around the world, and give fans opportunities to engage with directors and actors after film screenings (sessions that anyone can join live on WAFF's Facebook page).

“We had everyone from Adam Beach to Gary Farmer last year. It was an easy thing for them to just plug in and take part, that’s the beauty of the virtual thing,” Compton said.

They hope to get filmmaker Danis Goulet to interact with fans after her film Night Raiders shows this year. The Toronto International Film Festival described it as a singular thriller that “draws on Canada’s ugly colonial legacy for a propulsive piece of genre cinema set in a dystopian postwar future.”

Compton says Brooke Pepion Swaney’s documentary Daughter of a Lost Bird, the story of a woman adopted out in the 60s Scoop, is wonderful. Other features include Portraits from a Fire directed by Trevor Mack, Brother, I cry starring Justin Rain, and Ste. Anne—an experimental, dialogue-free drama by Manitoba's Rhayne Vermette that was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival.

One night will be dedicated to Manitoba filmmakers, and the Festival closing will include the 2nd Annual National Indigenous Screen Awards and a retrospective of the best in WAFF films from the past 20 years. Rajotte says WAFF has a history of giving a platform to unknown filmmakers, such as Academy Award winner Taika Waititi, whose film Boy showed at WAFF in 2010.

"We're very proud that we played a role in promoting those talents," said Rajotte.

The virtual format means festival goers can watch films as they are premiered, or anytime the couch calls.

“You can go back and watch them whenever you want…that’s the beauty of it. A lot of people want to sit down with some popcorn and watch a movie and they can do that. There are ways to put it into your TV as well.”

Keep an eye on for information on the Festival lineup and to purchase a pass or single screening tickets. Income-challenged persons can email to access WAFF.

"We want to make sure that anyone who wants to watch a film at WAFF can," said Rajotte.

Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf

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