Fairy Tales Film Festival: Calgary's Treaty 7 Film Collective encourages diverse voices in cinema

From the film, Nite Ride. Courtesy, Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival. Calgary

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In Danni Black and Olivia Golosky’s short film Nite Ride, a group of friends do battle with supernatural beings during a bike ride in Calgary.

As a genre exercise, the film features a good deal of scares and some impressive animation from Calgary artist Tank Standing Bull.

But it doesn’t take long into a conversation with Black, a 26-year-old Niitsitapi filmmaker and co-founder of The Treaty 7 Film Collective, to learn there is much deeper meaning packed into those 13 minutes.

“It’s commentary about how women are represented on screen,” says Black. “Women and queer people, especially people of colour, on screen are usually the ones that have violence acted on them. We wanted to create a film where we have them being the ones who are strong and able to protect themselves and each other.”

Shot in the winter using downtown Calgary locations, the film’s creation was also an exercise in community building.

“It was really great to find different people within our community, whether that’s the queer community or racial communities, to gather and do this film together,” she says. “It was a real healing experience for everybody.”

Nite Ride will be among films screened as part of a program of 10 shorts curated by Black on behalf of the Treaty 7 Film Collective for the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival, May 24 to June 2. Here N’ Queer: Not Going Anywhere, which screens May 26 at the Central Library, features films from across Canada that fall into a number of genres. Evelyn Pakinewatik’s Emerge: Stone Braids is a documentary centred on Indigenous Fashion Week; When Winds Crash is Ryan Cooper’s documentary about a “gender fluid diva” living on a reserve; Twisted Machine is Carolyn Wu’s narrative short about a Chinese-Canadian lesbian who defies her mother by joining a hockey team and dating a teammate.

“In the past, I think we haven’t done enough to nurture our diverse talent,” says Black. “So what I thought what we could do was make sure there was a starting point in getting films shown to a wider audience to folks who can see themselves within the lives of the characters in front of them. We can listen and learn from stories that aren’t so textbook or traditional. You might be surprised at what you can take home with you, even if the film you watched is about fighting monsters during a bike ride or being a gender fluid person living on a reservation. We just wanted to elevate diverse voices and skills and get more diverse representation through media on screen. That’s why we felt it was important to have all the filmmakers be queer people of colour. ”

The Treaty 7 Film Collective was formed in 2016, not long after Black graduated from the Adam Beach Film Institute in Winnipeg. Initially intended to be a collective for Treaty 7 filmmakers, it was an extension of the Winnipeg-based Indigenous Filmmakers Association. But the mandate quickly expanded, with the collective welcoming filmmakers who were people of colour or come from Indigenous, immigrant and LGBtQ2s+ communities.

Describing herself as “storyteller, indigiqueer and matriarch in the making,” Black is from the Sisika Nation but grew up in Calgary with a fascination for film.

 “I always lived in the city, I never really grew up on the reserve,” she says. “I always lived with my single mom in Calgary. When I was super young, I had always had an interest in filmmaking. I had really big dreams of making it to Hollywood. As I got older, I realized I was really growing into my identity as an Indigenous person.

“When I was younger, because a lot of internalized racism and the effects of residential school and colonialism, being Indigenous at the time was not something I was proud to be because of everything that surrounded me, especially with the school system not educating us on our history. As I got older, I realized I was really becoming a person that was proud of who I was and that my storytelling had a lot to do with being Indigenous and I wanted to make films for my community.”

Eventually, she went to the Adam Beach Film Institute, which was founded by the Ojibwe actor to encourage more aboriginal youth to get involved in the medium. Inspired by the Indigenous Filmmakers Association, Black returned from Winnipeg with a plan.

The collective began holding meetings at Emmedia Gallery and Production Society and continues to hold networking events and screenings. 

“There are so many different things you can do within film,” Black says. “As much as you can make a film by yourself, it’s an industry that relies on a lot of people to make something powerful, strong and beautiful. We really encourage writers, camera operators, storyboard artists, animators, musicians — everybody is welcome to come to either offer their own skills or learn a new skill.”

Black also recently joined the staff of the Calgary Queer Arts Society, the organization that has presented the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival for the past 21 years.

As the lineup of shorts for Here N’ Queer suggests, filmmakers who fall into the categories celebrated by the collective tend to produce work with strong social commentary. Queer cinema has often had a strong political element, as has contemporary art from the Indigenous community. Do these artists have a responsibility to create socially conscious work? Not necessarily, Black says. But the work often tends to lean that way by default.

“It’s a really important question,” she says. “What I always ask myself is ‘Am I an Indigenous filmmaker or am I a filmmaker who is Indigenous?’ Right now, our communities are trying to connect back to our identities and our cultures. A part of that is learning the true history of what has happened in our communities as well as educating ourselves on a lot of different things. A lot of people are trying to figure it out. I encourage filmmakers to explore those subjects and thoughts that they might have. I never want to make people feel like they have to make a comment or base their work on politics or social commentary, but I think naturally those things will come out.”

Here N’ Queer: Not Going Anywhere screens on May 26 at 7 p.m. at the Central Library as part of the Fairy Tales Queer Film Festival, which runs from May 24 to June 2. Visit calgaryqueerartssociety.com