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A film fest is born: Interview with Asinabka’s Howard Adler

By Alessandro Marcon on May 16, 2012

Next month from June 19 to 24, Ottawa’s newest yearly film festival will be born. The Asinabka Film and Media Arts Festival will highlight aboriginal artists and issues while entertaining the masses. Howard Adler, one of the festival’s co-directors, sat down with Apartment613’s Alessandro Marcon to discuss Asinabka, aboriginal cinema and The Business of Fancydancing.

Apt613: Hi Howard, Can you tell us about the Asinabka festival? What is it and what can people expect to see at events?

Howard Adler: Asinabka is an Indigenous themed film and media arts festival, taking place in Ottawa from June 18-24, 2012. Although this is our first year organizing the festival, we’re aiming to accomplish quite a lot of events. We have multiple venues to screen and display work throughout the city, such as the Auditorium at 395 Wellington, the Auditorium at the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Civilization Theatre, Club Saw, Mayfair Theatre, Gallery 101, Fall down Gallery, Vincent Macey Park (in partnership with the Aboriginal Solstice Festival), as well as an outdoor film screening on Victoria Island. The mandate of the festival is to showcase work by anyone that focuses on Indigenous topics, both national and international, and to present film and media art that reflects the diversity of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit in Canada.

People can expect to see film, video, and media art from Indigenous people all across Canada. We’ve had a very large number of film submissions, which I think speaks to the need for more venues and places for Indigenous artists to present their work. People can also expect to see a high calibre of filmmaking from established artists, but also work from mid-career and emerging artists. They can also expect to see a diversity of genres, from short films, to experimental documentaries, animation, drama, and feature length work as well. We’re also planning a Gallery Crawl event at Gallery 101, and Fall Down Gallery. This will include an artists talk and wine and cheese event at G101, and then a contrasting multi-disciplinary performance by local Indigenous arts collective “Fresh Tracks” at Fall down Gallery. We also have a partnership with the ImagineNATIVE festival in Toronto, and will be screening a program of short films from them at the Museum of Civilization Theatre.

I could go on forever talking about the festival, there’s so many things in the works, such as a Métis specific film program being curated by local and well known Métis Artist Jamie Koebel, and a partnership with a local experimental film artists collective called Available Lights who are hosting a Spotlight Screening of Ariel Smiths work that is being curated by Diana Warren of the Urban Shaman Gallery in Winnipeg. And we’ve also got a youth residency in Digital Sound Production being led by the very talented and local artist Dawn Maria, which is being held at the Saw Video Media Arts Centre.

Expect lots.

Apt613: It sounds very comprehensive and dynamic. Lots of good stuff going on! I especially like the idea of events taking place in Vincent Macey Park and on Victoria Island. Taking events outdoors in the best months of the year is a great move.

Having read books like The Imaginary Indian by Daniel Francis, and having seen documentaries like Reel Injun, one can see the history of stereotyping Indigenous people, projecting false and misleading images upon them, and therefore creating a very erroneous and damaging identity of perceptions. Can you reflect a little bit on the importance, or possibly strategy, of Indigenous people playing a main-stream role in determining how Indigenous people are perceived?

Howard: Yes, I think it’s important to challenge the way Indigenous peoples are often portrayed and stereotyped. There’s a long history of that in film and television, and in mainstream media, and it still continues to be that way. Some of the imagery and logos we decided to use for the Asinabka Festival play on that stereotyping, by framing recognizable imagery inside of film reels. A part of what Indigenous people do through film is a decolonization of the medium itself, by telling our own stories, based on real experiences.

I think it’s really important to have an Indigenous Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital, where policy, legislation, and decision making is made on behalf of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people in Canada. I wonder (about the) amount of knowledge that some of the non-native people working at Indian Affairs, or other government departments, actually have about Indigenous people, yet are in positions to make decisions that affect them. The Asinabka Festival is a chance to educate some of the people in power, but it’s also a chance to share real Indigenous stories, and for the Indigenous community in Ottawa to see their own cultures reflected back at them.

Apt613: Yeah, seeing cultures reflected back is something fascinating in art, and especially in film. The power of film is so incredibly strong. One of my favorite films is Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. I loved everything about this movie from the landscapes, to the story. The characterization was also incredible. I was wondering if you could mention three of your favorite movies that focus on Indigenous culture in Canada or the States.

Howard: My three favourite films that focus on Indigenous Culture? I guess I’d have to say the work of Alanis Obomsawin, Zacharias Kunuk come to mind immediately. Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistanceis such a relevant and amazing piece of documentary filmmaking that I think every Canadian should see it. I also think it should be a mandatory part of the educational curriculum. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is also such a groundbreaking film based on a traditional Inuit story, it is shot entirely in the Inuktitut language, and has the most beautiful cinematography.

But it’s hard to just single out two of these filmmakers works as both have had extensive careers producing stunning work that is both relevant and innovative. To pick only 3 specific films is a difficult task! I’d have to say I’m enthralled with Kent Monkman’s work featuring his persona Miss Chief Eagle Testickle. I also love how Sherman Alexie’s writing translates into film, specifically the classic film Smoke Signals, but also the storytelling in The Business of Fancydancing is one of my favourites! Oh and I really like Shelly Niro’s work, and Shane Belcourts work, and and Chris Bose’s, and… the list goes on!

Apt 613: Nice hustle Howard! This is an awesome list for folks to dig down on, pre or post festival. I’m personally interested in checking out that Kanehsatake documentary as well as The Business of Fancydancing – based partly on your recommendation and partly on the awesomeness of that title. Lastly, what will make this year’s festival a success and where can people go to find out more information regarding schedules and whatnot?

Howard: I think what will make the Asinabka Festival a success, is all the talented artists and filmmakers that we have to showcase. We received film submissions from all over Canada, and I think the diversity in subject matter, genre, and style is going to translate into some really great events and programs. Also, I think our partnerships with various groups and organizations will also contribute to the success of the Festival. For example, we have partnerships with the ImagineNATIVE film Festival, the Solstice Festival, the Writers Festival, the Urban Shaman Gallery, Gallery 101, Saw Video, and the Fresh Tracks Indigenous Arts Collective to name only few!

Apt613: Thanks Howard!

People can visit the website to find out more information or check in on the facebook page.