Published Nov 18, 2016Filmmaker Dominic Gagnon came under fire for his controversial portrayals of indigenous people in the Canadian North in last year's of the North. The film played at the 2015 Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), compiling found YouTube footage of Inuit communities that depicted disturbing scenes of drinking, violence, ATV crashes, vomiting and sex — set to the unlicensed music of artists like Tanya Tagaq.
After Tagaq threatened to sue Gagnon, her music was subsequently removed from the film, and now, one year later, the Montreal film festival has finally issued an apology for screening the offending material. A new statement hears RIDM apologizing "for having presented a film with a colonial perspective that perpetuates racist stereotypes."
The formal statement arrives following an RIDM-organized panel discussion dubbed "Indigenous Videographers Shoot Back." The event took place last week and brought together filmmakers, journalists and academics — who unanimously condemned the screening of of the North — to discuss issues affecting indigenous peoples and the film industry.
Moving forward, RIDM has promised to "take steps to improve its consideration of problematic points of view during the festival's curation."
UPDATE (11/21, 1 p.m. EST): Following RIDM's public apology, a group of musicians has claimed it was the result of pressure put on the festival to address the long-standing issue. In a newly released statement, the group has issued the following:
To: RIDM Festival
We thank you for your public apology issued on November 17, 2016. A year has passed since RIDM screened and defended of the North, and it is meaningful to us that the festival has finally publicly acknowledged that the film served a colonial function in perpetuating negative racial stereotypes about Inuit. In addition, we appreciate that RIDM has apologized for its initial reaction to the criticism it received for presenting the film, a reaction we believe was defensive, dismissive, and hurtful toward Indigenous women of colour, especially to your most vocal and brave critic, Tanya Tagaq. Given that Tanya is an Indigenous musician whose artistic creation was used without her permission in a film that degraded her own people, RIDM should have listened to her immediately and taken action, instead of minimizing her concerns. The fact that the festival only issued a public apology in response to pressure from a group of non-Indigenous musicians is telling.
We believe that actions speak louder than words. Each band originally slated to play the RIDM show on November 17 was offered $300 to play and the DJ was offered $150. Evidently, since we unanimously decided not to play the show, we were not paid. To demonstrate RIDM's stated commitment to the process of reconciliation, we ask that you donate our artists' fees, collectively totalling $1050, to an Indigenous community organization that we have selected. If you agree to this request, please contact us to arrange the donation. We believe that this financial donation will help to repair the hurt RIDM caused throughout this controversy. It is also a concrete step, albeit a small one, toward the crucial task of reconciliation in this country.
Sincerely & with blessings from Tanya,
Helen Chau Bradley