By Barb Nahwegahbow
TORONTO—When Alanis Obomsawin learned that she was receiving the Clyde Gilmour Technicolor Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association (TFCA), there was a feature of the award that made her very happy. She was able to pick a young filmmaker to receive $50,000 in services from Technicolor Creative Services.
“I knew right away who it would be,” she said. “And it is Amanda Strong, a young animator.”
Obomsawin was speaking in Toronto on January 10 at the annual gala held by the TFCA. Walking to the stage to accept the award, she was treated to a deafening standing ovation by her peers in the industry.
TFCA President Brian D. Johnson described Obomsawin in a media release as, “a significant architect of Canadian cinema and culture” and said that the honour was long overdue for someone who has created, “a lifetime of movies that matter.” Obomsawin has made 50 documentary films and her most recent work, We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in 2016. The film deals with the federal government’s discriminatory treatment of First Nations children.
Presenting the award at the gala was Jesse Wente, well-known as one of Canada’s foremost critics of film and pop culture and whose family is from Serpent River First Nation. He’s presented Obomsawin with numerous awards.
“Each time, I can’t think of a more deserving recipient,” stated Wente about Obomsawin.
“[She is] an artist, storyteller, a trail blazer, a leader, a listener, an activist, a mentor, a warrior, a hero, and inspiration,” continued Wente. “She’s devoted her life and work to the cause of Indigenous people, giving voice to the voiceless and she’s stood up to the powers that would silence us…she is why there’s an Indigenous global community at all. She is the reason why I and so many others do what we do and on their behalf, I cannot thank her enough.”
Amanda Strong, 31, is the filmmaker whose animated film so impressed Obomsawin.
“The sound made me feel like I was in some Métis house, in their kitchen and they were all talking and I could hear and feel them so well,” noted Obomsawin about the voices in Strong’s film, Four Faces of the Moon. “And what’s amazed me is that Amanda is really trying to tell the history of her people, the Métis people and it’s coming out of her pores.”
In accepting her award, Amanda Strong said it was a challenge being an Indigenous female in the animation and film industry. She expressed her gratitude to TFCA and Technicolor for the award, with a special acknowledgement of Obomsawin.
“The greatest honour is that such an amazing person as Alanis would choose me,” stated Strong in her acceptance speech. “I can only hope that I can do a fraction of what she’s given to Indigenous people and film…”
In an interview the day following the gala, Strong talked about her grandmother who has been her biggest inspiration. Her grandmother, now in her 80s grew up in St. Boniface and moved to Ontario after she married. Strong grew up listening to her grandmother’s stories about Métis life.
The film, Four Faces of the Moon, is about her own journey of tracing her family’s Métis roots, a very personal story, Strong said. In the film, she goes back in time to meet her ancestors.
The Métis culture is a rich and complicated one, Strong said, with strong connections and a responsibility to the land and the animals.
“In the film, I wanted to get to the core, the core values,” she said, rather than the external trappings like sashes and jigging.
Her next two animated films are in the very beginning stages of development. One is about the Sasquatch and the other about the Wendigo.
Obomsawin believes that Amanda Strong is a filmmaker to watch for.
“I think she’s going to come up with something really great,” stated Obomsawin.