Thursday, April 5, 2012

Indigenous Futures Film: Lisa Jackson's Savage

In addition to China MiĆ©ville's talk and the book room, one of the other highlights of ICFA for me was a session I attended on indigenous scifi/fantasy film, hosted by Portland State University professor Grace Dillon. During this session, Grace screened a number of short films by indigenous filmmakers, including File Under Miscellaneous by Jeff Barnaby (2010), Horse by Archer Pechawis (2007), Blue in the Face  by Myron Lameman (2010), The Path Without End Elizabeth Lameman (2011), and The Migration by Cody Harjo (2010).  The list of these films alone is an incredibly valuable resource, particularly for those who teach courses in either scifi/fantasy or indigenous studies, and the films themselves range from satirical (Blue in the Face) to artistic (The Path Without End) to horrifying (File Under Miscellaneous).

Of the films I saw during this session, my favorite was Lisa Jackson's Savage (2010), seen below:

There is so much that I love about this short film.  For starters, the images are beautiful.  The way the sun glints off the halfway-rolled-up window.  The simple action of a woman sweeping a broom across a wooden floor.  A washcloth being squeezed out over the sink.  The deliberateness of these images, along with their simplicity, makes them beautiful, and in the context of the film, heartbreaking images of loss.

The film portrays a woman in her kitchen, singing while she cleans.  This is interspersed with the image of a young girl being taken away in a car, and while I learned during the screening that this girl is the younger version of the woman herself, the film leaves this a bit open for interpretation, leaving room for the girl to be a daughter as well.  Clearly, the woman is mourning the girl's departure, and the multiple ways of interpreting the girl make this loss both one in the past as well as one that exists in the present.  We see that the girl is taken to a boarding school, where her braids are cut off and she is dressed in a blue and white uniform.  While I don't speak Cree and couldn't understand the cries of the woman at this point in the film, there is no mistaking her anguish.

The scene then shifts to a classroom, where the girl and her classmates are working silently, sitting in rows of desks.  When the teacher leaves, they get up and we can see their faces--the pallor of their skin and the circles under their eyes conveys that they are zombies, as is the way that they get up and dance as one, ala Michael Jackson's Thriller.  It's an amazingly effective use of a scifi trope to convey the historical reality of Native Americans/First Nations people who were taken to boarding schools, yet the film as a whole is so subtle and leaves room for the viewer, so that it doesn't become overly didactic or preachy.  It's definitely a film that I will show my classes--both those on science fiction/fantasy and those on Native American literature--and while I'm sure these classes will approach the film in very different ways, I expect that they will all find it immensely rewarding.