Looking for films with a varied perspective? Asinabka Film and Arts Media might be just what you’re looking for. Featuring national and international films focusing on Indigenous issues and topics, Asinabka strives to inject the Capital/Algonquin region with a blast of something fresh. It’s the second year that Christopher Wong and Howard Adler have been organizing the event, so we got in touch with Howard via email to hear what’s happening at one of Ottawa’s newest festivals.
Apt613: Firstly, What does “Asinabka” mean, and why did it become the name of the festival?
Howard Adler: The word “Asinabka” means “Place of Glare Rock” in the Algonquin language, and refers to the Chaudiére falls on the Ottawa River as well as the Victoria Island area. We began the festival knowing that we wanted to do outdoor film screenings on the island because it’s such a beautiful spot. We also wanted to give the festival a relevant name, and Asinabka has always been an important location for Indigenous peoples. It’s considered a sacred place. It’s in the heart of Ottawa, located between Ottawa and Quebec, and this in-between location somehow reflects the marginalized place that First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples have often held in Canadian Society. We also wanted to make a point of using an Algonquin word to reinforce that Ottawa is on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
Apt613: Can you give us a phonetic spelling of “Asinabka”?
Howard Adler: The “A’s” are pronounced like the “au” in the word “Taught” Asinabka (Au-Sin-Aub-Kau).
Apt613: This is the 2nd year of the festival. How has it been organizing it this year as opposed to last year? What has been biggest change in programming?
Howard Adler: The difference in organizing this year compared to last year is that we have more experience. Last year it was our first time planning events, so we had to figure out how to write grants and get funding, how to book venues, how to build a website, what the rates are for artists fees etc… we also needed to give our festival a name. We needed to brand ourselves with a logo. We needed to create an identity for the Festival, but this year all that infrastructure is already in place, so it’s made things a bit easier the second time around. The biggest change in programming is that we scaled back a bit in terms of the number of films, so we’ve been a bit more selective; we also had a lot more international film submissions this year, which was a great complement to the National Gallery’s programming this summer of their “Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art Exhibition”, with whom we have a partnership for some of our events.
Apt613: What kind of feedback did you get from the Indigenous community last year?
Howard Adler: Mostly that we should keep doing what we’re doing!
Apt613: Did you receive many applications for this year’s festival? Was it a difficult process to select which films to screen?
Howard Adler: Yes, we received over 60 film submissions, from all over Canada, and internationally from the United States, Mexico, Russia, Australia, Bolivia and Brazil. Yes, our selection Jury was comprised of filmmakers and local Indigenous artists, and they had to make some tough decisions about which films to screen, but I think they did an excellent job, and they were so enthusiastic they even agreed to meet again to help put the film programs together.
Apt613: Is there a specific theme running through this year’s festival?
Howard Adler: There isn’t really one overarching theme running through the entire festival, but I think each film program has its own theme. For example, there is a “Land” themed film program, a “Women’s” themed film program, and a “Science Fiction/Fantasy/Queer” themed film program.
Apt613: Are the films being shown exclusively Canadian?
Howard Adler: In this relatively new country that has become known as Canada, to call any film made by Indigenous people as “Exclusively Canadian”, would be problematic, this might somehow elide Indigenous Identities and rights to self-determination.
Apt613: How enriching can it be for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada to watch Indigenous films from other countries?
Howard Adler: It’s very enriching for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada to watch Indigenous films from other countries. Film and video are such powerful mediums, and when put into the hands of people that are telling their own stories, some really amazing perspectives emerge. It’s also important to put a human face on larger issues and to show the similarities that exist between people regardless of labels.
Apt613: Last year, you had the great idea of doing some outdoor screenings? Will there be one or more outdoor screenings this year?
Howard Adler: Yes, we’re doing another outdoor screening on Victoria Island (On the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Hull), screening Director Anita Doron and Writer/Producer Richard Van Camp’s critically acclaimed dramatic film “The Lesser Blessed”.
Apt613: Will there be any Q-and-A sessions with directors?
Howard Adler: Yes!! Most notably with respected Director Alanis Obomsawin at the screening of her film “The People of the Kattawapiskak River”.
Apt613: This past year, The “Idle No More” movement galvanized Indigenous communities from coast to coast, and sparked some long overdue conversations. Do any of the films in Asinabaka explore this topic?
Howard Adler: Not specifically, but I think that many of the films we’re showing do reflect the spirit of social activism present in the INM movement.
Apt613: I see that you’re doing a dinner-and-a-movie night? Tell us a bit about that.
Howard Adler: I’m so excited for this pre-festival event, July 18 & 19! Delicious and authentic Oaxacan cuisine will be prepared by Chef Ana at Mitla Café, and paired with a beautiful Indigenous Mexican documentary Film “Silvestre Pantaleón”. Limited Tickets are available at Gallery 101 and Mitla Cafe!
Apt613: Are any of this year’s films from Ottawa?
Howard Adler: Yes. Caro Ibrahim’s documentary short “Stolen Dream”, which is about the Sixties scoop and features a local Ottawa resident, Colleen Hele.
Visit asinabkafestival.org for a full schedule and detailed information about each event and each screening.