Adam Khalil is a filmmaker and artist from the Ojibway tribe who lives and works in Brooklyn. His practice attempts to subvert traditional forms of ethnography through humor, relation, and transgression. Recently selected for inclusion in the 2019 Whitney Biennial, Khalil’s films are featured in the Walker’s INDIgenesis film series: The Violence of a Civilization without Secrets (with Zack Khalil and Jackson Polys) screens March 7 as part of Sundance Institute Native Shorts, and on March 8, he visits, with co-director Bayley Sweizer, for a screening of Empty Metal (2018).
In our current period of existential and environmental catastrophe, desires for Indigenous epistemologies increase, and enterprising settlers labor to extract this understanding as a natural resource. From an Indigenous perspective, this has palpable consequences, from romanticization and commodification to appropriation and cultural erasure.
In order to reassert control over Indigenous knowledge and stories we first have to confront the historically contentious relationship between the moving image and Indigenous peoples. For Indigenous peoples, the camera is a dangerous weapon, one that has been wielded against us since the device’s inception. Images of Indians dancing for White audiences in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show were some of the first moving images to pass through Thomas Edison’s laboratory in 1894.
Settlers’ obsession with preserving images of our “vanishing” cultures has long been a tool used to colonize and oppress Indigenous peoples. By relegating our identities to the past and forcing us to authenticate ourselves via this past, our existence as contemporary individuals living in a colonized land is denied.
The settlers’ encapsulating gaze ignores the fact that for Indigenous communities tradition is not an immutable set of truths handed down by revelation but a set of ever-evolving social practices whose continuity cannot be repaired by preservation, elaborated only through struggle, and finally achieved under conditions of genuine self-determination.
An emergent turn in Indigenous filmmaking seeks to foster these conditions for self-determination not only representationally but also formally. These films reject settler-colonial modes of film production and shift their lens toward Indigenous epistemology and philosophy—both in the production process and within their structure and logic.
They make visible a collective effort to build upon an inherently Indigenous cinematic language—a language that honors and perpetuates our traditions, while carving out space for our culture to continue to evolve into the future. A form that rejects the imperative of efficient extraction of information in favor of an open-ended, time-intensive, community-based approach that emphasizes place, relationality, and a cyclic, as opposed to linear, view of time.
Films made by Indigenous people for Indigenous audiences, that can intrigue, educate, and entertain non-Indigenous audiences as well; films that can address the historical trauma of colonization and continued occupation, while allowing space for levity and trickster humor; films that are built upon a foundation of extensive research and sustained engagement with the communities that the stories of the films come from; original, innovative, and compelling films that can reach a national and international audiences. We are in a unique moment when an inherently Indigenous cinematic form is finally able to be projected onto the screen and into the world.
In a perpetual process of redefinition, transformation, and return, this living cinematic language challenges the politics of representation that has confined Indigenous agency and shoots back, against the settlers’ gaze, to focus on the imagining of Indigenous futures.
Native Videographers Shoot Back
By Allison Boucher Krebs (aka my mom)
Native videographers are armed and dangerous:
ready willing and able to shoot back,
taking no captives,
aiming straight from the hip
to the heart of the unsuspecting audience.
Native videographers wind the thin corn silk
of storytelling genealogy—
challenging the purposeful amnesia of American History.
Native videographers lean into and snap apart
the imaginary lines separating history from prehistory,
reach across the permeable boundaries
drawn tentatively on maps of modern nation states,
sweep aside the borders that
dot dash dot
across the terrain,
and speak in tongues to the land
who breathes a sigh of relief to hear our voices
resonating back through the once breathless silence.
Native videographers open the aperture
extending the depth of focus
beyond the doctrine of discovery,
the Papal Bulls,
manifesting a destiny of space time continuum
embedded in a metaphysic
repeating itself patiently
in looped frame insistence
that while everything has changed,