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Indigenous Film Series

Entertainment and education join hands in on-line celebration

By Elaine Smith

Woodsworth College, in partnership with imagineNATIVE Film +Media, kicked off an online summer Indigenous Film Series -- an exciting step along Woodsworth’s path toward honouring its responsibility to build relationships with Indigenous community members and partners.

“It’s important for us to do what we can to bring Indigenous cultures to the Woodsworth community,” says Professor Carol Chin, principal of Woodsworth College. “We want to develop a respectful relationship with the Indigenous community in ways that are helpful to both of us.

“I am grateful that we have staff and faculty who are closely connected to Indigenous communities to lead the effort. Learning works best when done at the local level, because it is more personal and direct, and that is how I view the Indigenous Film Series.”

The organizers of the Indigenous Film Series, Audrey Rochette, Indigenous partnerships and relations at Woodsworth, and Jon Johnson, an assistant professor in the College’s teaching stream, first came up with the idea as a response to the isolation students were feeling as a result of the pandemic.

“We talked about how to work on community relations between Woodsworth and the Indigenous community in a stressful, fearful time and thought it would be good to hear people laugh while feeling engaged,” says Rochette, a member of Whitesand First Nation who co-chaired the Faculty of Arts & Science’s original Decanal Working Group on Indigenous Teaching and Learning in 2016-17.

“We have international students who remained in residence because it wasn’t easy or practical to go home during COVID-19, and, as a mother, I know that must be hard. During a strategy meeting, we talked about how to reach these students and we decided to bring movies to the comfort of their laptops.”

Putting together the film series was easy for Rochette, who previously worked for imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest presenter of Indigenous screen content. The series kicked off with a series of short films by young Indigenous creators, followed by a live discussion with one of the directors and a moderator from imagineNATIVE. Each film will feature a similar discussion afterward with a director and/or industry expert.

“These are the types of films that make you ask questions,” Rochette says. “I am hoping they will spark interest so people can go down their own roads of reconciliation in their own time.”

Johnson, whose French-Canadian heritage includes Haudenosaunee and Kichesipirini ancestors, regards the film series as a pilot for Woodsworth in an effort to build community and understanding about Indigenous cultures, history and issues.

“It’s one strand of a many-stranded strategy we’re building,” says Johnson, who is also involved with First Story Toronto, which focuses on the city’s Indigenous history. “We’re still in the planning stages, but we can envision tours, events and speakers. We’ve created courses with new content, too.

“We’re creating mutually respectful, mutually advantageous, ongoing partnerships while building awareness. There is no limit to what could be done.”

Liza Nassim, the dean of students at Woodsworth, agrees that the series is a valuable initiative.

“This is an important endeavour for Woodsworth, because it speaks to the Faculty of Arts & Science’s response to the Calls to Action in U of T’s Response to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission,” she says. “Woodsworth wholeheartedly embraces those recommendations and is trying to work toward them, not only for our Indigenous students, but for others who are drawn to Indigenous ways of knowing.

"Artists and movies speak to varied audiences in a way that is holistic, thoughtful and educational, and we hope the series will open more dialogue and conversations. We see it as the beginning of a larger story about how Reconciliation works and how we at Woodsworth can help facilitate those valuable conversations.”

No one will want to miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about Indigenous peoples and take part in the resulting conversations. Register here to view the upcoming films.