First Peoples Film Festival: Voice of native peoples in the Cinema

First Peoples Film Festival: From the air you can see the endless expanses of tundra, snow, ice, stone and boreal forests of the Nunavik region. From the air, the first Inuit aviator, Johnny May, presents the greatest changes that have modified environment of the region: the settling of its people and the climatic change affecting the Arctic.

May looks concerned by the spread of consumerism, the migration, the accumulation of toxic waste, the remnants of a traditional life close to the extinction. May’s story is exciting: it’s the same story repeated as a metaphor of the existence of many other native peoples, the “first peoples” whose stories are those that has been presented these days in the Montreal First Peoples Film Festival (


The heart of the city beats with the rhythm of drums, the Pow-Wow, of the Mohawk´s and Algonquin´s dance. This rhythm represents the steps before hunting, when finding a new territory that will support the family. This exploration has been included into the essence of the 23 edition of the First Peoples Festival: the audiovisual language in service of great stories in more than 50 films that participate this year in the largest indigenous film production in the world. Canada, Brazil, Chile, United States, Polynesia, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Mexico and even Spain and Germany are represented at the Cinematheque Quebecer in a unique international event.

The First Peoples Film Festival is more than cinema: music, gastronomy, craft and culture in general are the core of the event opened to participation: the important thing is to make people hear the voice of the first towns, to make people participate, to know, to learn and to feel. That´s why the square des Festival, in the heart of the city (the same place where best international jazz voices play), hosts for one week a year the only festival of its kind in the world. A giant tipi marks the center point of the square, where is projected a message that gives exposure to native peoples, in the same way that the peaceful movement “idle no more” that began last December.

History and traditions: a fragile boat that, as said by André Dudemaine, director of the Festival, survives over the years. Behind the Festival is the need to build bridges, to strengthen the link between the ancient and the contemporary. This cycle is reflected in the selection of films that competes in the event. One example of that is the spectacle of epic origins of native peoples, as exposed in the film “We Giants”; where we can become familiar with the sea routes, traced by the Inuit community on the Baffin Island and Greenland thanks to the intrepid crossing of a great Shaman, and how these routes have been changing the polar region. But there is also other example in the contemporary titanic exploits, as filmed in “Xingu Incayal” (nominated for Teueikan prize) that introduce us to the reality of humble artisans who carry the rest of the world on their shoulders (Karitonytch).

In this edition, two stories have obtained the approval of the jury, who has awarded them with Teueikan prizes. The first Teueikan Prize was for “Winter in the Blood” (trailer: and the Second Prize was for “Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth”. No one doubts that the film, submitted by Alex and Andrew Smith, reveals a new step in the native filmography: a great production that “brings to the screen, boldly and faithfully, a major work marking the flowering of contemporary Amerindian literature”, as noted by the jury. An award that recognizes the value of “a script illustrating the erratic journey y a distraught hero with just enough ironic distancing and emotional proximity, in with realism meets wild imaginings at every turn of a therapeutic odyssey “

“Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth”, (trailer: a German movie signed by Eric Blanck and Frauke Sanding, emphasizes “men and women of flesh and blood, who in their humble everyday lives carry on a very ancient legacy, its wisdom, its worldview and its universality”. This festival is an approach to the Mayan civilization through the beautiful images included in a creative documentary that has been awarded with the Best Cinematography Prize and the Best Documentary Prize in this edition of the First Peoples Festival).

The Grand Prize Rigoberta Menchú, a prize reserved for social issues, went to Parer JT Haines, Tommy Haines and Andrew Sherburne for “Gold Fever”, a film that highlights the conditions and practices that happened in the rural mining town San Miguel de Ixtahuacan: “For showing how the North American corporation, driven by an unhealthy thirst for fold, closes its eyes to the reprehensible activities of the groups mining for it. For its compelling portrait of brave women who defend the Maya people’s territorial rights”.

There have been stories that made us reflect, feel. Other movie with this effect is the Second Prize Rigoberta Menchú “Point de fuite” by Stephen A. Smith and Julia Szucs, where we can get introduced to the beauty of the tales of the Inuit nation.

To know the other story, the reality of some peoples without the veil made by Hollywood films, presented by their true stars, is a unique opportunity available to anyone who visits Montreal. First Peoples Film Festival is a must-attend Festival that submerges you into an ancient culture, closely linked to the present.

words Luis Soldevila (Montreal)


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