Indigenous Filmmaking

Taking a closer look into the Independent Indigenous Digital Filmmaking Diploma at CapU 

Megan Helin // Contributor  

‘’Hello, my name is Sachenne Littlefeather, I’m Apache and […] I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he asked me to tell you in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently because of time… but he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry.” 

In 1973, The Godfather lead actor Marlon Brando asked Native American Activist Sacheene Littlefeather to represent him and refuse his Oscar for Best Actor. Littlefeather was forced to give this brief speech when the Oscars got word of their intent, banning her the original speech written by Brando and threatened her if she went forward with it that evening on stage.  

For decades, Indigenous people have been portrayed in a single narrative, otherwise known as Pan-Indigeneity, created by Hollywood for fame and monetary gain. Lumping every Indigenous person (First Nation, “Indian,” Aboriginal) into one pile and only ever referring to them as  “The Savage,” “The Indian Princess,” or “The Warrior.” To be Indigenous—based upon the harmful single narrative created by Hollywood—you must be red skinned, with long flowing Raven hair in braids, and wear a headdress with turquoise around your neck and wrists—as if every Indigenous person is either of Mohawk of Navajo descent.  

The Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking (IIDF) Program at Capilano University (CapU)  began in 1999 in the Northwest Territories “when Northern Native Broadcasting applied to the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) and were successful in getting a license to broadcast,” said Gregory Coyes, Metis/Cree of St. Albert, Alberta and faculty at CapU within IIDF and Motion Picture Arts. After success with broadcasting in a number of arctic communities of Canada, they later applied for a national networking license that became the network Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) that broadcasts to this day. In the creation of APTN, it was noted there was a need for Indigenous people in film to help run these Aboriginal networks and the conception of IIDF was born. The program eventually found its way to CapU in the 2000s.  

With successors like Peter Crass, Jackson Crick, and Doreen Manuel. Gregory Coyes is the current Program Coordinator for the students of IIDF. He works alongside fellow Indigenous instructors and Allies to educate Indigenous students in the history of their people in film, while training them in industry standard practices to take with them when they graduate from the program. IIDF is the only program in Canada and one of two in North America to offer a diploma program that can lead to a Bachelor’s Degree for Indigenous film students. 

The IIDF includes graduates like Jessie Anthony, Petie Chalifoux, Michel Auger, and Jay Cardinal Villeneuve who have since entered the film industry and are highly regarded in their craft. They inspire fellow Indigenous people and finally represent them in film with respect—unlike in decades past. IIDF faculty and students work hard to ensure that the treatment of Indigenous people within the film industry, both on and off the screen, never again allows unjust representation, treatment and erasure. “I feel so comfortable being around people who know what my culture is and understand the fact of how important it is,” said first year IIDF student, Sunshine Waterworth of the Squamish Nation. Indigenous peoples have always been present in film and will continue to be in the future. This time, however, they will be holding the camera, writing the screenplay and editing the footage.  

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