Alexandra Lazarowich is a Cree producer, director, and screenwriter whose work has premiered at film festivals around the world. She is passionate about telling Indigenous stories. Her documentary FAST HORSE (2018) won the Special Jury Prize for Directing at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
What’s unique about many of our Indigenous communities is the importance placed on community. What has been instilled in me by my Cree mother, my aunties, my great-aunties, my Kookem (grandmother) and Moosem (grandfather) is that when you have something you share, you offer to others; you welcome people at your table no matter what. In this industry, we do this, and we must continue to do this because there is enough room for all of us. This means kindness; this means extending opportunity to others; this means hiring Indigenous film crews; this means trying to expand our circle. This is what was taught to us by our ancestors.
In 2019, what is happening in the film industry by minority groups and within our own Indigenous film community is communal action toward putting our ideas forward, creating our own work, and creating a new Indigenous Cinema. One that is by us, for us.
But we also have to look at the systemic issues of why and how we are misrepresented and how we as Indigenous artists can access and take up spaces of power. I think that within the industry we are noticing that we have more than enough talent in our community—storytellers, directors, writers, and people with new ideas. But what is lacking is the representation of Indigenous people in positions of power. There are a few decision makers, programmers, museum curators, funders, board members, studio heads, and commissioning editors; and those few are working their asses off trying to make change in institutional spaces, including Bird Runningwater at Sundance Institute, Tracy Rector at Longhouse Media, and Adam Piron at LACMA—but there needs to be more of us. There must be more of us sitting at boardroom tables deciding whose film gets made and whose story gets to be told and by whom. Either we can work to access these spaces and demand a seat at the table or we can create these spaces for ourselves. And as we rise together and gain more power it is our responsibility to spread that power to others and to remember what it was like to have no power.
This work is often tiring. Sometimes we are the only Indigenous voice in the room, and to constantly represent and be the voice to inform and educate others as to why our people need to be a part of the conversation is exhausting. But without our people in these spaces we will forever be relegated to playing the dutiful stoic Indian with flute music floating in the background. Our communities, our nations, our people, and our cultures are so much more dynamic and alive, and we are just on the precipice of a new Indigenous Cinema.
This new Indigenous Cinema is about pushing ourselves as Indigenous people, to question what it means to be Indigenous in 2019 and into the future. How will we thrive, how will we succeed, how will we incorporate technology and storytelling in our lives to honor and propel us forward as Indigenous people? This means creating work that opens up filmmaking. There are so many great artists doing this and pushing against the constructs or stereotypes of what Indigenous film is supposed to look like. Look at the works by Sky Hopinka, Adam and Zach Khalil, Courtney Montour, and Elle–Máijá Tailfeathers: these artists and so many others are creating work that is reflective of their lived experiences and also exploring new ways of storytelling, new images, and new sounds. That is the future.
The Indigenous lens is so much more than just the films we make—it is about our community. What will Indigenous communities look like and how powerful will they be when our people and our children can finally see themselves reflected back on screen?