The Masters Series: Alanis Obomsawin
When you have a filmmaker with 50 films that span a 50-year career with the National Film Board, it’s hard to narrow the choices down to just 5.
There is no arguing that Alanis Obomsawin is a master. She is a genius at what she does, and she keeps telling the stories that need to be told. She’s a leader, a storyteller, and a champion for Indigenous people and their rights. She brings important issues to light, in a way that’s engaging for audiences and makes us sit up and take notice.
For this post, I’ve done my best to include the films that I feel represent a huge body of work. If you disagree, or have different choices, please feel free to leave them in the comments below.
Making Movie History: Alanis Obomsawin
Before we start, we should really get to know the filmmaker a little. This brief clip features Alanis herself talking about her career, from her early days onwards. It offers great insight into who she is, and what drives her.
Christmas at Moose Factory
When Alanis decided she was ready to make her own film, this is the one she made. It’s a short animation, crafted from the drawings made by the children in the Moose Factory settlement. The drawings illustrate the stories told by the children. It’s a poignant film, and though only 13 minutes in length, it offers great insight into the filmmaker Obomsawin would become.
Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance
How could we not include this film? It is the seminal film on the historic confrontation between the Mohawks, the Quebec police, and the Canadian army in the summer of 1990. Alanis Obomsawin proves herself fearless as she thrusts us to the forefront of the action by spending 78 days and night filming the armed stand-off. The film is a masterpiece.
Professor Norman Cornett: Since when do we divorce the right answer from an honest answer?
Okay, once you get past the title, there’s a powerful film here about a McGill professor who was infamously dismissed form his job in 2007. Norman Cornett was an unconventional teacher, but his methods were adored by scores of students. In this film, Obomsawin strays from her usual fare to pay tribute to this man who affected the lives of many.
Is the Crown at War with Us?
This film asks the painful question on everyone’s lips as the Mi’kmaq fishermen of Burnt Church, New Brunswick, watched federal fishery officers wage war on their livelihood in the summer of 2000. What was going on? Once again, Obomsawin puts her skills to work as she walks us through the roots of the conflict and provides context for the issues at hand. Seemingly with ease, this woman renders even the most complex issues clear enough that even I understand, and she does it with grace.