Written and directed Michelle Latimer
Characteristics Thomas King, Nyla Innuksuk and Kent Monkman
Classification N / A; 90 minutes
Premieres April 8 at 9 p.m. ET on APTN. stream on APTN lumi from April 9th
Selection of the reviewer
Is it either a complete accident or a strangely aggressive programmatic move to release the National Film Board and the Aboriginal television network? Uncomfortable Indian this Friday, at the end of Canadian Screen Week and just two days before the broadcast of the Canadian Screen Awards 2022.
Uncomfortable Indian, one of the most infamous Canadian documentaries ever made and few people have actually seen, is directed by Michelle Latimer, whose career was overturned in December 2020 after the CBC released a film that scrutinizes its Native heritage. Documentary producers quickly withdrew the film from distribution, and Latimer saw the next major production of 2020, the acclaimed CBC series Tricksterwas canceled by the network – only to later win 15 Canadian Screen Award nominations (although Latimer itself did not receive any).
To say that there is a certain level of bitter Cancon irony Uncomfortable Indian Finally, it makes its way into the world, on the eve of the biggest celebration in the Canadian screen sector, we put it mildly.
But after almost a year and a half of controversy, what is the audience tuning in to APTN on Friday night (or then airing the document on APTN lumi) to make the much-discussed Latimer film? It can be taken into account and appreciated Uncomfortable Indian as a film, while isolating whatever your thoughts are on Latimer’s own life – a life she consistently defends, telling The Globe last year that she is “an Algonquin without mixed blood status, Metis, of French-Canadian heritage. And that I can stand with the truth “?
Recourse to the “separate art from the artist” line of thought can be exhausting and sometimes arbitrary – and seems to be a tension that APTN has not yet fully resolved, as the online movie media page for the film does not no reference to Latimer. But there is a reason why APTN is finally promoting its work, after conducting “a series of substantial consultations with all the indigenous people whose stories the film presents”: it is an excellent, adventurous and daring documentary.
A provocatively relaxed but also highly respected adaptation of Thomas King’s 2012 non-fiction book The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Latimer’s film enjoys breaking conventions while trying to create new ones from scratch. Unlike most modern documentary cinema, there are no talking heads or stitched archival footage. In contrast, Latimer’s exploration of contemporary indigenous culture is as fluid in form and approach as the artists he narrates on camera.
There is an insightful tour of Kent Monkman’s studio. Quiet moments with Christi Belcourt. A movie-in-a-movie-about-another-movie interlude in which Latimer follows the background of Nyla Innuksuk’s upcoming science fiction thriller in Nunavut Vertical / Back. And watching all this unfold, in another naughty post-moment, is King himself, sitting at the Fox Theater in Toronto, where he acts as a quasi-narrator.
Visually poetic and narratively fascinating – each of Latimer’s themes feels worthy of their own standalone film – Uncomfortable Indian analyzes centuries of history and incalculable pains to present a fascinating, demanding and rewarding cultural portrait.
I will admit that not everyone will be open to the film – and I will admit here that I originally planned to include Uncomfortable Indian in my list of the 10 best Canadian movies of 2020, before I was embarrassed to retire during the first outburst of controversy. But if this weekend at the Canadian Screens Award we are really asked to look at the state of the art in the country – where we have been and where we can go – then we are watching Uncomfortable Indian feels like an essential act.
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