The imagineNATIVE Film & Media Arts Festival returns to Toronto—and online—for its 24th annual edition later this month.
As the largest presenter of Indigenous screen content, this year’s festival focuses on the theme of “homecoming” with features and short film programming spanning 74 Indigenous Nations and 40 languages from around the world, including Māori, Innu-aimun, Inuktitut, Northern Sami, and Yakut, among others.
The in-person portion of the festival takes place in Toronto at the TIFF Bell Lightbox from October 17 through 22, with online offerings available from October 23 to 29, making it even easier to celebrate Indigenous talent across the country. There are kid-friendly screenings to get the whole family involved and a few chances to catch some films you may have missed at TIFF 2023 including The New Boy, Muru, Tautauvauk, and imagineNATIVE’s closing night film, Hey, Viktor! Not sure when to head down to experience this year’s offerings? This year all screenings on October 20 are free, with same-day tickets available at the Lightbox box office.
With 14 feature films and 70 short films to choose from, as well as digital and interactive works to explore, here are our picks for five films you need to see at imagineNATIVE 2023.
Based on true events in 2007, this crime-thriller from New Zealand has already earned raves from critics. Cliff Curtis stars as Community Sergeant “Taffy” Tawharau in director Tearepa Kahi’s defiant and tense thriller. Given the choice to go undercover in his community as an informant, Taffy finds himself stuck between his duty as an officer and his roots as a proud Māori after he learns local Indigenous activists in his community are suspected of plotting to kill the Prime Minister. Expertly paced with all the rumblings of an action-thriller, Curtis’ performance cements Muru as one of the festival’s must-sees.
Muru screens on October 21.
One of the most refreshingly funny and honest films of the festival, Inky Pinky Ponky is nothing short of delightful. Lisa (Amanaki Faletau-Prescott, who also wrote the play of the same name) is a teenage fakaleiti (third spirit) whose gender identity faces open bigotry from her high school classmates and an unaccepting Tongan Catholic mother. But with a sharp wit and clever, cutting comebacks, Lisa has her sights set on being the school’s Queen of the Ball, determined to step into her power and own who she is, no matter what others think. Set to an upbeat soundtrack and a queen bee that rivals Mean Girls’ Regina George, directors Damon Fepulea’i and Ramon Te Wake’s film is full of pain, joy, and ultimately, hope. Faletau-Prescott is absolute dynamite, and as Lisa would say, she came to slay. The only disappointing thing about Inky Pinky Ponky is that it’s only 85 minutes. When the credits roll, you’ll wish you had more time with these characters.
Inky Pinky Ponky screens on October 21 and virtually on October 23.
Canada’s history is fraught with complex, unjust, and violent moments — and some of them revolve around hockey. Directors Asia Youngman and Kathleen Jayme take a deep dive into the moments after the Vancouver Canucks lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup in 2011, causing a majorly destructive riot in Vancouver. Much more than your regular sports documentary, I’m Just Here For The Riot offers a new perspective on Canada’s “polite” reputation, drawing in on settler rage, mob mentality, toxic online culture, and what social media vigilantism really means. Dubbed the world’s “first smartphone riot”, the film offers a fresh perspective and a new way of looking at the narratives we’ve used to shape our country.
I’m Just Here For The Riot screens on October 18.
Recent winner of TIFF’s Amplify Voices Award for Best BIPOC Canadian First Feature film, directors Lucy Tulugarjuk and Carol Kunnuk’s Tautuktavuk is one of the most powerful stories screening at imagineNATIVE. Blurring the lines between fiction and reality, the film tells the story of sisters — played by Tulugarjuk and Kunnuk — who each deal with trauma in their own ways. Separated during the pandemic in Iglulik, Nunavut and Montreal, Quebec there is an emotional and geographical distance between siblings. Filled with difficult conversations and truths revolving around gendered and domestic violence, Tautuktavuk gives a voice to Inuit women like we have never seen before.
Tautuktavuk (What We See) screens on October 18 and virtually on October 23.
Director Damon Fepulea’i’s utterly charming Red, White & Brass is a feel-good movie that’ll have you rooting for the underdog. Maka (John-Paul Foliaki) will do anything to see his beloved Tonga play France in the Rugby World Cup and the only way he can make it happen is to play at the match with his brass band. There is just one problem: he doesn’t have a brass band, an instrument, or any musical talent. Rousing and hilarious, Red, White & Brass has everything that Taika Waititi’s underdog sports comedy Next Goal Wins wishes it possessed. Based on a true story, this is one film the whole family can enjoy at imagineNATIVE.
Red, White & Brass screens on October 20. Note that all films on October 20 are free and can only be collected in person at the box office at Lightbox.
imagineNATIVE Shorts Program
This year, there are 70 short films from around the world in a multitude of languages screening during the festival. Grouped thematically, the short films are showcased in short film programs: Witching Hour, Queerdom, “That’s My Baby!”, From Land to Water, For The Grandbabies, Into The Unknown, Staying Vigilant, Embracing Loss, Long Line of Ladies, A Mother’s Love, and You Know Who You Are.
If you can only choose one shorts program, our favourite is something for horror fans. Start your spooky season viewing with the Witching Hour short film program filled with suspenseful and eerie tales including Dear Stephen King, instead of using Indian Burial Grounds in your books, have you thought of using European Burial Grounds? which asks King why he’s so afraid of Native American people. Also featured in the program is the queer nature story Skádja, a tale of a curse in Unborn Biru, the witchy The Untold Tales of Tūteremoana – Whiro, and Сu-Ckoo, a haunted house tale.
The Witching Hour shorts program screens for free on October 20.
Visit the imagineNATIVE website for a complete list of screenings, art displays, industry programming, and events.