National Canadian Film Day

National Canadian Film Day

It was a pleasure to curate this programme of Indigenous-made NFB films, with support from the REEL CANADA team, in honour of the ninth annual National Canadian Film Day (NCFD). This year, NCFD is spotlighting films by First Nation, Inuit and Métis filmmakers from Canada. This curated programme includes several NFB titles that you will also find on REEL CANADA’S official 2022 NCFD spotlight list, along with a selection of other NFB films produced between 1968 and 1998, all of which hold historical, artistic and cultural significance in the canon of Indigenous cinema in Canada. These works and the filmmakers behind them forged a path for today's generation of Indigenous filmmakers. Indigenous filmmaking in Canada began at the NFB in 1968 with the formation of the “Indian Film Crew” and the release of Willie Dunn’s Ballad of Crowfoot – often referred to as Canada’s first music video. There are so many great titles to discover here. A personal favourite is the inimitable Clint Alberta’s Deep Inside Clint Star – an unforgettable meditation on sex, life, love, abuse and colonial oppression. These titles also demonstrate the great importance of narrative sovereignty for Indigenous media artists. When Indigenous stories are told by Indigenous filmmakers, the result is authentic, self-determined cultural expression and resonant stories that captivate diverse audiences. Enjoy!

Ariel Smith (nēhiyaw)

Ariel Smith is an award-winning nēhiyaw and Jewish filmmaker, video artist, writer and cultural worker who has been creating independent media art since 2001. Much of her work has been shown at festivals and galleries across Canada and internationally. In addition to her own artistic practice, Ariel has worked as the Technical Director of SAW Video Media Arts Centre in Ottawa, Director of the National Indigenous Media Arts Coalition, Executive Director of imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, and as a programmer for several festivals and arts organizations. Ariel is currently the Artistic & Managing Director of Native Women in the Arts, and Manager of REEL CANADA’s Indigenous Film Programme.

  • Birth of a Family
    2016|1 h 19 min

    In this deeply moving feature-length documentary, three sisters and a brother meet for the first time. Removed from their young Dene mother during the infamous Sixties Scoop, they were separated as infants and adopted into families across North America.

    Betty Ann, Esther, Rosalie, and Ben were only four of the 20,000 Indigenous Canadian children taken from their families between 1955 and 1985, to be either adopted into white families or live in foster care. As the four siblings piece together their shared history, their connection deepens, and their family begins to take shape.

  • Forgotten Warriors
    1997|51 min

    This documentary introduces us to thousands of Indigenous Canadians who enlisted and fought alongside their countrymen and women during World War II, even though they could not be conscripted. Ironically, while they fought for the freedom of others, they were being denied equality in their own country and returned home to find their land seized.

    Loretta Todd's poignant film offers forth the testimony of those who were there, and how they managed to heal.

  • Foster Child
    1987|43 min

    An important figure in the history of Canadian Indigenous filmmaking, Gil Cardinal was born to a Métis mother but raised by a non-Indigenous foster family, and with this auto-biographical documentary he charts his efforts to find his biological mother and to understand why he was removed from her. Considered a milestone in documentary cinema, it addressed the country’s internal colonialism in a profoundly personal manner, winning a Special Jury Prize at Banff and multiple international awards. “Foster Child is one of the great docs to come out of Canada, and nobody but Gil could have made it,” says Jesse Wente, director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office. “Gil made it possible for us to think about putting our own stories on the screen, and that was something new and important.”

  • Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
    1993|1 h 59 min

    In July 1990, a dispute over a proposed golf course to be built on Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) lands in Oka, Quebec, set the stage for a historic confrontation that would grab international headlines and sear itself into the Canadian consciousness. Director Alanis Obomsawin—at times with a small crew, at times alone—spent 78 days behind Kanien’kéhaka lines filming the armed standoff between protestors, the Quebec police and the Canadian army. Released in 1993, this landmark documentary has been seen around the world, winning over a dozen international awards and making history at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it became the first documentary ever to win the Best Canadian Feature award. Jesse Wente, Director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office, has called it a “watershed film in the history of First Peoples cinema.”

  • nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up
    2019|1 h 38 min

    On August 9, 2016, a young Cree man named Colten Boushie died from a gunshot to the back of his head after entering Gerald Stanley’s rural property with his friends. The jury’s subsequent acquittal of Stanley captured international attention, raising questions about racism embedded within Canada’s legal system and propelling Colten’s family to national and international stages in their pursuit of justice. Sensitively directed by Tasha Hubbard, nîpawistamâsowin: We Will Stand Up weaves a profound narrative encompassing the filmmaker’s own adoption, the stark history of colonialism on the Prairies, and a vision of a future where Indigenous children can live safely on their homelands. See the 52-minute version here.

  • Our People Will Be Healed
    2017|1 h 37 min

    Our People Will Be Healed, Alanis Obomsawin’s 50th film, reveals how a Cree community in Manitoba has been enriched through the power of education. The Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Education Resource Centre in Norway House, north of Winnipeg, receives a level of funding that few other Indigenous institutions enjoy. Its teachers help their students to develop their abilities and their sense of pride.

  • The Road Forward
    2017|1 h 41 min

    The Road Forward, a musical documentary by Marie Clements, connects a pivotal moment in Canada’s civil rights history—the beginnings of Indian Nationalism in the 1930s—with the powerful momentum of First Nations activism today. The Road Forward’s stunningly shot musical sequences, performed by an ensemble of some of Canada’s finest vocalists and musicians, seamlessly connect past and present with soaring vocals, blues, rock, and traditional beats. A rousing tribute to the fighters for First Nations rights, a soul-resounding historical experience, and a visceral call to action.

  • The Ballad of Crowfoot
    1968|10 min

    Released in 1968 and often referred to as Canada’s first music video, The Ballad of Crowfoot was directed by Willie Dunn, a Mi’kmaq/Scottish folk singer and activist who was part of the historic Indian Film Crew, the first all-Indigenous production unit at the NFB. The film is a powerful look at colonial betrayals, told through a striking montage of archival images and a ballad composed by Dunn himself about the legendary 19th-century Siksika (Blackfoot) chief who negotiated Treaty 7 on behalf of the Blackfoot Confederacy. The IFC’s inaugural release, Crowfoot was the first Indigenous-directed film to be made at the NFB.

  • You Are on Indian Land

    Released in 1969, this short documentary was one of the most influential and widely distributed productions made by the Indian Film Crew (IFC), the first all-Indigenous unit at the NFB. It documents a 1969 protest by the Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) of Akwesasne, a territory that straddles the Canada–U.S. border. When Canadian authorities prohibited the duty-free cross-border passage of personal purchases—a right established by the Jay Treaty of 1794—Kanien’kéhaka protesters blocked the international bridge between Ontario and New York State. Director Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell later became Grand Chief of Akwesasne. The film was formally credited to him in 2017. You Are on Indian Land screened extensively across the continent, helping to mobilize a new wave of Indigenous activism. It notably was shown at the 1970 occupation of Alcatraz.

  • Christmas at Moose Factory
    1971|13 min

    Released in 1971, this lyrical short documentary marked the directorial debut of legendary Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin. Filmed at a residential school in northern Ontario, it is composed entirely of drawings by young Cree children and stories told by the children themselves. Listening has been at the core of Obomsawin’s practice since the very beginning. “Documentary film,” she said in a 2017 interview, “is the one place that our people can speak for themselves. I feel that the documentaries that I’ve been working on have been very valuable for the people, for our people to look at ourselves… and through that be able to make changes that really count for the future of our children to come.”

  • The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson's Bay Company
    1972|42 min

    The Hudson’s Bay Company’s 300th-anniversary celebration in 1970 was no occasion for joy among the people whose lives were tied to the trading stores. Narrated by George Manuel, then president of the National Indian Brotherhood, this landmark film presents Indigenous perspectives on the company whose fur-trading empire drove colonization across vast tracts of land in central, western and northern Canada. There is a sharp contrast between the official celebrations, with Queen Elizabeth II among the guests, and what Indigenous people have to say about their lot in the Company’s operations. Released in 1972, the film was co-directed by Martin Defalco and Willie Dunn—a member of the historic Indian Film Crew, an all-Indigenous production unit established at the NFB in 1968.

  • Natsik Hunting
    1975|7 min

    25-year-old Mosha Michael made an assured directorial debut with this seven-minute short, a relaxed narration-free depiction of an Inuk seal hunt. Having participated in a 1974 Super 8 workshop in Frobisher Bay, Michael shot and edited the film himself. His voice can be heard on the appealing guitar-based soundtrack. Released in 1975, Natsik Hunting is believed to be Canada’s first Inuk-directed film.

  • Amisk
    1977|40 min

    In 1977, the James Bay Festival took place over nine days in Montreal. This historic one-of-a-kind event was held in support of the James Bay Cree whose territory, resources and culture were threatened by the expansion of hydro-electric dams. First Nations, Métis and Inuit performers came from across North America to show their support in an act of Indigenous unity and solidarity few people in Montreal had ever witnessed. Rarely seen early performances by legendary Indigenous artists Gordon Tootoosis, Tom Jackson, Duke Redbird, Willie Dunn and director Alanis Obomsawin herself are interspersed with testimonies of members of the James Bay Cree. Their stories reveal first-hand experiences of the negative impacts of capitalistic expansion on Cree land.

  • Incident at Restigouche
    1984|45 min

    On June 11 and 20, 1981, the Quebec Provincial Police (QPP) raided Restigouche Reserve, Quebec. At issue were the salmon-fishing rights of the Mi’kmaq. Because salmon has traditionally been a source of food and income for the Mi’kmaq, the Quebec government’s decision to restrict fishing aroused consternation and anger. Released in 1984, this groundbreaking and impassioned account of the police raids brought Alanis Obomsawin to international attention. The film features a remarkable on-camera exchange between Obomsawin herself and provincial Minister of Fisheries Lucien Lessard, the man who’d ordered the raid. Decades later, Jeff Barnaby, director of Rhymes for Young Ghouls, cited the film as an inspiration. “That documentary encapsulated the idea of films being a form of social protest for me... It started right there with that film.”

  • Minqon Minqon: Wosqotomn Elsonwagon (Shirley Bear: Reclaiming the Balance of Power)

    Decades before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Shirley Bear was defying repressive colonial narratives with inspiring imagery of Indigenous womanhood. Catherine Martin profiles the Wolastoqiyik/Malecite artist known as Minqon Minqon (Rainbow Rainbow).

  • Hands of History
    1994|51 min

    In this acclaimed 1994 documentary, Loretta Todd, a leading figure in Indigenous cinema in Canada, profiles four contemporary female artists—Doreen Jensen, Rena Point Bolton, Jane Ash Poitras and Joane Cardinal-Schubert—who seek to find a continuum from traditional to contemporary forms of expression. Each artist reveals her practice and journey in her own words. The film is a moving testimony to the vital role Indigenous women play in nurturing Indigenous cultures.

  • Qatuwas - People Gathering Together
    1997|58 min

    For thousands of years the great ocean-going canoe sustained the cultural and spiritual traditions of coastal First Nations. Yet this century has seen the virtual disappearance of these sacred vessels.

    In the 1980s, Native peoples of the Northwest Coast embarked on an emotional voyage of rediscovery. Reclaiming their ancient maritime heritage, they carved majestic canoes from cedars that were living hundreds of years before Europeans arrived in the Pacific Northwest.

    Crews from thirty First Nations then set out in 1993 on a remarkable journey, paddling hundreds of kilometres along ancient waterways to an historic gathering of more than three thousand people at Bella Bella, British Columbia.

    Qatuwas - People Gathering Together powerfully documents this rebirth of the ocean-going canoe and celebrates the healing power of tradition and the resurgence of Northwest Coast indigenous culture.

  • Deep Inside Clint Star
    1999|1 h 28 min

    Take a hilarious and bittersweet journey into the hearts and minds of some very ordinary, extraordinary young Canadians with this feature-length documentary. The filmmaker, assuming the role of Clint Star, seeks out his far-flung buddies, young Indigenous people like himself. They talk about sex and life, love and abuse, and 500 years of oppression—all with humour, grace and courage.