Sometimes making films is the only thing that grounds Mi’kmaq filmmaker Kennelin Barlow to reality.
He hopes others feel the same way when he shows two of his short films to a Fredericton audience on Jan. 31 as part of St. Thomas University’s first Indigenous Film Festival.
“[Films are] the closest I can get to a reality, to an experience, whether it is depression, happiness, or any other emotion,” he said. “The only thing that makes sense in my life is film.”
He’s one of seven Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqiyik filmmakers whose films will be featured in the inaugural festival created by STU’s Senate Committee on Reconciliation with help from the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-operative.
The films to be shown at the festival range in genre. Barlow’s films are mostly experimental, he labels them “arthouse cinema,” and deal with themes from death to connection.
He said films can be one of the only ways he can experience life in “real-time.” Due to mental illness, sometimes a day can feel like two hours.
Barlow said he’s nervous for Jan. 31, despite having shown his films at festivals before. At his first one, he didn’t have a good experience. He said some people didn’t know how to take one of his films and some mocked it.
Still, he feels delighted and honoured to take part in a first-of-its-kind festival in New Brunswick.
“As for a festival for Indigenous peoples here in New Brunswick, it’s fucking amazing.”
André Loiselle, STU’s dean of humanities, said the aim of the festival is to create a buzz and attract a wider audience. In past years, there have been monthly Indigenous-made film viewings, but he said the idea, created in a meeting at STU’s Senate Committee on Reconciliation, was to have dedicated time to watch multiple films.
“The main point is to try to attract as many people as possible to work towards this idea of reconciliation and connecting with Indigenous cultures and seeing all the complexity of Indigenous culture as well. Because there’s not only one Indigenous culture out there, obviously, even within the Maritimes.”
The festival will launch Thursday night with the New Brunswick premiere of Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger directed and produced by Alanis Obomsawin.
On Friday night, Natasha Francis, Lisa Jodoin, Kennlin Barlow and STU grad Logan Perley will present two to five films each.
Saturday night will close the festival with four short films by Carr Sappier and a longer film by Cathy Martin.
Each filmmakers’ series of films will be followed by a moderated question and answer.
“We really want to allow people in the audience to ask about the filmmakers themselves and also why they chose to do certain types of films,” said Loiselle.
Loiselle said if students only have time to go to one screening, they should see Obomsawin’s Jordan River Anderson: The Messenger. The 65-minute film screening at 7 p.m. at the Kinsella Auditorium focuses on the human origins of “Jordan’s Principle,” a federal policy meant to ensure First Nations children have equitable access to health, social and educational services.
A filmmaking workshop hosted by Obomsawin will be on campus Friday afternoon and all-day Saturday.
Student and member of the Senate Committee on Reconciliation at STU Justice Gruben said the film festival is great exposure for young artists, Indigenous artists and filmmakers.
“I think that’s the duty that institutions have is filling those gaps, giving students that access to different resources, to different experiences, experiences that they may not have had before.”
“These types of events are super important in providing exposure for Indigenous filmmakers and inspire others to see those opportunities within film.”