A Tribute to the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

From October 14 – 18, the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival had the TIFF Bell Lightbox buzzing with Indigenous cinema and multimedia arts at its finest. Indigenous artists from across the globe gathered once again to celebrate each other’s work and inspire audiences with films that speak to their communities from an authentic Indigenous perspective.

As a former Programming and Industry Coordinator (among a few other titles) at imagineNATIVE, I was invited to attend the festival this year as a community delegate. It was a bit of an adjustment for me to attend as a guest this time, without having the responsibility of running a panel, managing print traffic, or attending to guest needs. I know firsthand how much work goes into the festival all-year round, but when festival time comes, the iN staff go above and beyond every year to seemingly be everywhere at once to warmly welcome all guests and programmed artists. It’s hard work, but very fulfilling to see everything that has been planned and organized for months come to life, and to see festival guests enjoying themselves while making connections that keep the native film industry and arts communities thriving. As it turned out for me, attending the festival as a guest and not a staff member made no difference in how proud I was to be a part of it.

I attended the festival with my friend Megan, and the first thing I had to do when we arrived in Toronto was meet up with my Maori family. This past spring, imagineNATIVE sent me to Ōtaki, New Zealand for 5 weeks to intern for the Maoriland Film Festival. Over my stay I was hosted by Libby Hakaraia, Maoriland’s Festival Director, and her most beautiful and loving family. They took me in and gave me the trip of a lifetime. This year, Libby, her husband Tainui Stephens (who produced The Deadlands, one of the features programmed at this year’s festival), and her niece Maddy DeYoung (who I worked with at last year’s iN and Maoriland) were in attendance. As we made our way through the TIFF Lobby, I ran into my old co-workers, industry friends and volunteer friends, greeting and hugging everyone, and Megan made a comment saying that it looked like I was coming back home. That’s exactly how I felt, and that’s what keeps bringing us back again.

Throughout the festival, I couldn’t help but sit back for moments at a time and take in the atmosphere around me. Filmmakers from all over the world, highly accomplished film veterans, aspiring artists, and festival first-timers all together, collaborating in front of us, talking about the matters that bind us as Indigenous peoples on this earth and creating unity and strength between all of us. I can honestly say that this is the closest thing to a global revolution I’ve seen with my own eyes. imagineNATIVE’s programming and initiatives they take on every year is made to support this revolution, and foster new talent to keep the industry growing.

As a young native woman who is a dedicated supporter of the native arts community and an aspiring filmmaker, it’s been a blessing for me to have been given the opportunities I have had, thanks to imagineNATIVE. Anyone attending the festival has a chance to make the right connections with the people who have the resources and knowledge to create works that inspire future generations of Indigenous artists. I’ve shared stories of my own, and now have the support to make them come to life and be seen.

If there is one thing to take away from the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival, it’s that every year the festival succeeds in its ability to create a space for Indigenous voices to be heard, for stories to bring people together and inspire one another to keep being brave enough to “turn that into a film.” It is no doubt that imagineNATIVE is a gift to audiences and Indigenous artists everywhere.

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