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Asinabka Festival showcases Indigenous films from around the world

By Alessandro Marcon on August 16, 2015


August 19th to the 23rd will see the 4th Asinabka Festival come to life here in Ottawa. We caught up with Festival co-director, Howard Adler to get the scoop on what’s going down for this year’s edition.

Apt613: While I’m sure that some (perhaps many) of our readers are familiar with Asinabka Festival, for those unfamiliar, could you quickly fill them in on what Asinabka is all about?

Asinabka is an Indigenous Film & Media Arts Festival in Ottawa. We screen the best in Indigenous film from Canada and around the world. In addition to screening film, we curate exhibitions featuring contemporary Indigenous media artists, program Indigenous music and performance, partner with other organizations to facilitate mentorships and training in video production and media arts, and we also know how to throw a good party!

The word “Asinabka” is an Algonquin word that means “place of glare rock”, and it refers to the Chaudière Falls area on the Ottawa River. We chose this name for our festival to acknowledge that the Nation’s Capital is in the heart of the unsurrendered land of the Algonquin peoples. Every year we start our festival with a traditional gathering and an outdoor film screening on Victoria Island, and in that way, we keep a connection to this site.

This is your 4th edition of the Festival. What’s still great about the festival, and what’s new?

What’s really worth pointing out is our film programming and the partnerships we continue to build with other organizations. For example, every year we issue a call for submissions and we receive a plethora of works from Indigenous filmmakers all over the world (and every year we keep getting more submissions!). We setup a Selection Jury of artists and Indigenous filmmakers, who have the arduous task of watching all of these submissions, and making very tough decisions about which films should be screened. In this way, only the best Indigenous film from all over the world gets presented at the Asinabka Festival.

We also add to our film programming through research, attending other film festivals, partnerships, and keeping a close eye on the Indigenous film world, so that we know what’s hot, what’s new, and what we just absolutely have to include at our festival. For example this year we are screening a 10-year Retrospective of Wapikoni Mobile. Wapikoni got started as a travelling studio that offers audiovisual workshops in remote Aboriginal communities in Canada and abroad, and over the years they have had more than 3,000 young participants that have directed more than 600 short films.

Another program we’re screening is The Embargo Project, it’s a project initiated by the ImagineNATIVE Festival in Toronto, and is an anthology of five short films by Canadian Indigenous women. Participating in a collective process, each director created a film under restrictions imposed on them by their peers, to push each artist into new creative territory. And the result is spectacular; every film produced from this project is stunning, and we just had to have this program at Asinabka Festival!

Another screening we’re doing is called “UnMENtionables: Indigenous Masculinities”, which is the result of SAW Video’s Indigenous Curatorial Incubator Program. Basically, 2 emerging Indigenous curators and first time programmers, Charlotte Hoelke & Jocelyn Piirainen, put together this collection of short films, and it really is a brilliant program that looks at decolonizing Indigenous Masculinities, and the ways that colonization has impacted concepts of gender.

You’ve always started the festival on Victoria Island with an awesome outdoor screening. Do you do any kind of ceremony to kick-start the festival? Have you ever been rained out?

Yes, we usually start off the Asinabka Festival in a good way by inviting an Indigenous Elder to do an opening prayer. It’s a simple way for us to keep to Indigenous protocols, to acknowledge the territory that we’re on, and to give thanks. We also usually invite a local drum group and singers to do a few songs to start the festival off with a bit of traditional entertainment. Luckily, in the past 3 years, we have never been rained out on our opening night, and we hope that trend continues!

This year on opening night, you’ve chosen to screen a gnarly Maori action movie The Dead Lands. Can you tell us a bit about what attracted you to this film?

We always try to start the Asinabka Festival off with an entertaining, feature length, dramatic film. The Dead Lands  is an action movie shot entirely in the Maori language (English Subtitles), its rated R for “Brutal Violence”, and it’s ridiculously entertaining! It’s all about the warrior Spirit, and it’s definitely not a boring film to watch. Because of the rating, we’re screening the film later in the evening, after the more family friendly “Moari Pasifica Shorts Program”.

I see you have many events that include Q&A’s with various curators and artists. Is this the first year you’ve included so many, and what is it that you hope you gain out of these artist/audience interactions?

This year we’ve made a concerted effort to have more of this happen. For example, we’ve invited filmmakers to attend from the Wapikoni Mobile 10 Year Retrospective Program as well as The Embargo Project, and we’ve booked them travel and accommodation. We’ve even invited people to “Skype-in” to introduce films or hold Q & A’s. For example, Marlene Cummins is featured in the Documentary “Black Panther Woman” and will be Skype-ing in from Australia for short Q&A, and Leo Koziol will be Skype-ing in from New Zealand to introduce the Moari Pasifica Shorts Program that he curated.

Can you tell us a bit about the music night you have planned for Thursday?

It’s going to be tons of fun! We’re having an experimental music night called “Nimkii” which means “Thunder” in the Ojibwa Language. Madeskino, electronic music producer, DJ and multimedia artist will be performing along with some invited Inuit throat singers. Local musician, DJ, Producer, and Dancer Rise Ashen, with also be performing his unique brand of entertainment, and Yuma Hester, an emerging experimental guitarist will kick off the night with some space-age sounds. We’ve also invited a few local DJ’s and VJ’s, so there’s going to be a few visual and auditory surprises, and this is probably going to be the coolest event at our entire festival; you’re not gonna want to miss it!

The Asinabka Festival runs from August 19th to 23rd. You can learn more and see the full schedule at their website, or catch them on Facebook or Twitter.