Episode 12: Dancing with Language
Director: Jeff Dorn
In the early days of talkies, film was used to capture the languages of indigenous peoples on the brink of extinction, but today indigenous filmmakers are using the medium to tell their own stories, in their own way, in their own languages. These young directors are reclaiming the languages and stories projected in mainstream, Hollywood films and using language as a storytelling tool in their own films.
“When I started learning English, that led into literature, books. But it all started with the language, with the fabulous stories, the fabulous storytellers that exist in my language.” – Billy Merasty, actor
The Imaginative Film Festival in Toronto is the largest festival that showcases indigenous films. Billy Merasty, a Cree actor who's acting chops span twenty years, explains how important his first language is to his understanding of storytelling even when he is working in another language. Sterlin Harjo is a young native director whose work has been recognized at Sundance and makes films that include his Muskogee language.
“I use language a lot, even in preproduction. Because if I am doing the writing for my own work, I normally think in Indian so I use the language that way because it actually, to me, I think I am more creative when I use the language. Because I feel that when I use my language, it comes from the gut, it comes from the heart.” – Shirley Cheechoo, director
Shirley Cheechoo is a Canadian director that uses Cree, French and English in her dramas. On location for a shoot in Waswanipi, Quebec she explains how her creative process begins with thinking in her native Cree language. Wes Studi, Cherokee actor and language activist, talks about speaking a language that was recreated from a mere 17 words for the film New World.
“Language is the base of where we come from as native people, our culture stems from there, our identity stems from there. When we use our own language, it’s helping us still exist and keep existing.” – Lorne Cardinal, actor and director
Lorne Cardinal has become part of Canadian mainstream culture thanks to his role as officer Davis in Corner Gas. Lorne talks about learning the Ojibway language for The Strange Case Of Bunny Weequod and how he works as a director that tries to include his Cree language and culture in his projects where ever possible. Andrew Okpeaha Maclean is a director from Barrow, Alaska. Maclean’s short work, Sikumi, “On The Ice,” is the first film to be written entirely in the Inupiaq language. And it was shortlisted for the 2009 Academy Awards.