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Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger
Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger

The 2019 Toronto International Film Festival highlights the works of Indigenous filmmakers and artists, from veteran Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki), who comes to TIFF with the provocative and emotional Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger, to relative newcomer Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (Sámi/Blackfoot/Blood), with The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open.

Obomsawin’s Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger is the Abenaki filmmaker’s 53rd film. Documenting the short life of a young boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba, born with a rare muscle disorder, the film is an exposé of blatant governmental disregard.

Prolific filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk returns to TIFF with One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, a fictionalized account of an encounter between a respected Inuk elder and a government emissary, who tries to enforce a policy that will mean a fundamental rupture in the lives of Inuit. A post-screening Q&A will be moderated by Jesse Wente, Director of the Indigenous Screen Office. One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk is powerful tale about colonialism and Inuit–settler relations.

New Zealand’s Taika Waititi will be honoured at the TIFF Tribute Gala with the inaugural TIFF Ebert Director Award. Waititi directed the superhero film Thor: Ragnarok, which made over $850 million at the box office worldwide, and will write and direct the upcoming Thor: Love and Thunder. Waititi’s upcoming anti-hate satire, Jojo Rabbit, will have its World Premiere at TIFF and will be released by Fox Searchlight on October 18, 2019.

Mi’gmaq writer-director and 2010 TIFF Filmmaker Lab alum Jeff Barnaby returns with Blood Quantum, which was filmed in the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory and Listuguj, Quebec. The film features an Indigenous cast, including 2018 TIFF Rising Star Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs. Blood Quantum, the Opening Night Film in TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, tells the story of an isolated Mi’gmaq community who discover they are the only humans immune to a zombie plague.

Myriam Verreault’s Kuessipan, based on Naomi Fontaine’s novel of the same name, follows two Innu girls growing up as best friends in northeastern Quebec. Including many non-actors in her cast, Verreault brings the author’s tale of compassion, understanding, and lifelong friendship to life.

In The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, from writer-directors Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn, a chance encounter brings two Indigenous women together after a traumatic experience. The film explores love, motherhood, and the damage of child removal policies on Indigenous families. Tailfeathers, who stars in The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, is also featured at the Festival as an actor in Barnaby’s Blood Quantum.

Director Daniel Gordon’s documentary The Australian Dream is an insightful portrait of Adam Goodes, an Australian football star and a staunch activist for Indigenous rights both in his home country and around the world. The Australian Dream captures Goodes’ passion and commitment to his Indigenous identity.

This year’s Industry Conference (September 6–10) will also highlight key Indigenous speakers. Anishinaabe filmmaker Darlene Naponse will discuss environmentally sustainable practices, Jesse Wente will address funding for under-represented documentary filmmakers, and Australian director-producer Rachel Perkins (Black Bitch, a Primetime selection at TIFF 2019) will talk about her experiences directing for television. Black Bitch is produced by Perkins’ and Darren Dale’s Blackfella Films, which specializes in Indigenous productions.

Earlier this summer, TIFF announced Anishinaabe writer and director Lisa Jackson as one of the inaugural Talent Accelerator recipients. Jackson will also be taking part in TIFF Writers’ Studio in 2020.

The 44th Toronto International Film Festival runs September 5 to 15, 2019.

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