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Spotlight on Success

Filmmaker Loretta Todd Challenging Aboriginal Stereotypes
Loretta Todd

Award winning filmmaker challenges stereotypes
and promotes Aboriginal Media excellence

February 9, 2006

Filmmaker Loretta Todd to Launch an Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab in Vancouver, BC.

"The Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab is a forum to promote the complexity of Aboriginal people by promoting and encouraging Aboriginal media arts that renew, reframe and assert our histories � and our presents and futures."

Award-winning filmmaker Loretta Sarah Todd is launching the Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab (AHMAL), with a special screening of the film, The Silent Enemy on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 at 7pm. Location: Vancity Theatre 1181 Seymour Street Vancouver

The film, a fictional account of traditional life in Northern Canada, is a 1930 silent film, made with an all-Native cast. It will be accompanied by a live, improvised, jazz-fusion musical performance by acclaimed Native composer Russell Wallace and Friends.

�Using an old film to launch the lab,� adds Todd, �allows us to speak back to a cultural artifact from Hollywood, intervening with contemporary Native music, that both comments on the stereotypes and responds to the dramatic elements of the story. Russell Wallace and friends will perform a dynamic live score that fuses jazz, classical, electronica and traditional native music; making the evening a hypnotic and unique experience for all�

Although, the Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab is an independent organization, it has formed strategic partnerships with the Chief Dan George Centre, Simon Fraser University and the First Nations Studies Department at UBC because of their leadership in media issues and technologies. The lab will promote Aboriginal new media and technology-based art and communications to a wide audience.

�The first aim of the Media Lab is to ensure Aboriginal history is accurately and innovatively reflected in the media � to counter persistent misunderstandings about Aboriginal societies. And we want to improve the quality and quantity of Aboriginal media arts,� says Todd, �We have to challenge the stereotypes and historical inaccuracies so often portrayed in the predominantly non-Native media � even today.

The Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab is a forum to promote the complexity of Aboriginal people by promoting and encouraging Aboriginal media arts that renew, reframe and assert our histories � and our presents and futures.

�The long-term vision is to become an actual Media Lab offering a place for experimentation and the practical application of technology in the lives of Aboriginal people and communities,� concluded Todd.

For further information please contact Loretta Sarah Todd at (604) 687-5875 or (778) 891-5866

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UBC Faculty of Arts
Burying the stereotypes

Independent filmmaker Loretta Todd joins forces with the UBC First Nations Studies Program in research probing media representations of Aboriginal lives


BREAKING STEREOTYPES: Independent filmmaker Loretta Todd has partnered up with UBC First Nations Studies ( http://fnsp.arts.ubc.ca ) to investigate representations of Aboriginal lives in media

Jan 21, 2006

Growing up in Northern Alberta, filmmaker Loretta Todd remembers going to school and watching documentaries from the National Film Board of Canada about Native communities. She remembers the way Aboriginal people were depicted in these documentaries � demeaning and clich�d representations that made other people in her class laugh.

As a filmmaker, Todd, who is M�tis/Cree, has spent the last 15 years of her life challenging the stereotypes she believes are still deeply entrenched in today�s media.

The award-winning director, writer and producer has partnered up with the UBC First Nations Studies Program to examine representations of Aboriginals in media more thoroughly, in a three-year project titled the Aboriginal History Media Arts Lab.

With a $210,000 grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, ( http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca ) the federal granting body, Todd will work with students and members of UBC First Nations Studies, as well as members of the community, to explore ways of enhancing the quality and quantity of Aboriginal media.

�It�s too obvious to say that current representations are damaging,� says Todd, whose films have been screened worldwide, including at the Sundance Film Festival, New York University and the Museum of Modern Art.

�There is a legacy of misrepresentation � and of native people playing certain roles in the western imagination.�

Todd, who has written and lectured extensively on Aboriginal media, believes that current public imagery of aboriginals sees them being stuck in the past, rather than as part of the present. It also tends to portray Aboriginal peoples as one-dimensional � acting either as positive or negative role models.

�The usual task of these representations is to cast us as part of a distant past, rather than a dynamic present,� Todd says. �Or, if we are in the present, then it is only if we are good or bad role models � rather than human beings.�

For the first meeting of the media lab, participants gathered to watch the first episode of the 17-part CBC series Canada: A People�s History, which chronicles the story of Canada. The series initially aired in 2000, and has since been awarded three Gemini Awards and multiple international honours. The group also visited Storyeum, ( http://www.storyeum.com )the new $22 million tourist attraction in Gastown that aims to educate its visitors on Canadian history through a series of historical vignettes.

After the visits, the group critiqued the two productions in free-flowing conversation.

Todd believes the representations of Aboriginals in the series and Storyeum are guilty of replicating the same traditional stereotypes of Aboriginal people that have been projected for decades.

�If there are any illusions about the legacy of colonialism on the representation of Aboriginal people, then those two are perfect illustrations,� says Todd, who studied film at Simon Fraser University and was instrumental in founding the Aboriginal Arts Program at the Banff Centre.

�I know the prevailing attitude is to say, �Well that was then and this is now.� Well this is now, and the imagery hasn�t really changed �though it may hide behind a degree of political correctness.�

Professor Linc Kesler, director of the First Nations Studies Program, agrees.

�You can see that the tactic is to pull out these little moments of BC history and make the moments stand for the bigger picture,� says Kesler, referring to the historical vignettes in Storyeum.

�But their way of doing that with Aboriginal representation� it was like being stuck in The Last of the Mohicans or something. It was a little romanticized and stereotypical in a way that made people laugh. It was a little alienating. Well, more than a little alienating, it was quite alienating. Not complimentary.�

Kesler, whose research focuses on the relationship between technological change and representation of knowledge, says it�s important to think about these current representations to come up with a sense of what should happen next in the development of Aboriginal media productions. For instance, the trip to Storyeum prompted a lot of questions about different ways to present Aboriginal histories.

�Is the basic format itself a problem?� Kesler asks. �This little historical enacted vignette � is that viable, or is that in itself a problem? If the idea has validity, how would it need to work in a way that we find has more integrity from the aboriginal point of view? How would we like to represent Aboriginals so that non-aboriginal communities can understand better?�

He says these are the type of questions Todd has been asking, and these are questions that will be addressed in the media lab. Kesler and Todd have been discussing the need to create interface between the UBC First Nations Studies Program and the film community for a number of years now, which is why one of the lab�s principal aims is to create a place of exchange between Aboriginal media makers �filmmakers and writers � scholars, Aboriginal students, and other members of the Aboriginal community.

Through a series of discussions, the lab will explore ways to improve the quality and quantity of Aboriginal history in the media. Students from the First Nations Studies Program will play a part in the lab by preparing research papers related to each discussion theme, which are intended to spark reactions and engage debate.

Kesler says that one of the purposes is to sort through some of these issues in an intellectual and organized way.

�People talk about those issues informally, but they don�t have as much effect as if they were more organized into a body of discussion which is the way everything else happens in the academic world,� he says.

Once this body of discussion has been organized, it will be easier to approach school boards about the issue of what kinds of educational media are being shown in classes.

�I think it�s fairly safe to say that Aboriginal issues and Aboriginal histories are rather seriously underrepresented in Canadian school systems,� says Kesler. �So how do we create materials that give broader accessibility to perspectives and histories that students aren�t already getting? Someone needs to ask this, and ask it in a way that has force �raising it with school boards and educational decision makers. That�s happened to some extent, but it would be more effective if we had the intellectual infrastructure � that�s what the lab has to think about � how to give more profile to how the history is being represented, and to what end.�

He says that many students in the program are excited about the chance to work with Todd, whose films reflect many issues that are not addressed in mainstream media.

Kesler believes that what characterizes Todd�s work is her ability to cover stories that would not be picked up by filmmakers from outside the community. Her films promote a different way of looking and thinking about certain issues within her community, he says. �People are aware of what she has done and are aware of what that represents � doing that kind of filmmaking.�

In an essay that originally appeared in North Of Everything: English Canadian Cinema Since 1980 (University of Alberta Press, 2002), Todd said her inspiration to pursue film came at an early age, on one snowy night when she turned on the television to watch the horror classic Nosferatu. She recalls being too terrified to even change the channel, but also being drawn to the film because it was so beautiful.

�I began to understand that filmmakers used the tools of storytellers, which appealed to my Cree love of craft. And I also realized that filmmakers can make people feel things,� she says.

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Loretta Tood, a ( Metis / Cree ) Director, Producer, Researcher and Writer
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Banff Centre Bio for Loretta Todd, Faculty Member Leadership Development Programs

Loretta Sarah Todd is an internationally acclaimed director and writer known for her powerful, visual storytelling. Her films have screened world-wide, including at the Sundance Festival, American Indian Film Festival, Yamagata Documentary Festival and the Museum of Modern Art � to name a few. She has received many prestigious honours, including a Rockefeller Fellowship, a Mountain Award at the Taos Talking Picture Festival and attendance at the Sundance Scriptwriter�s Lab, plus awards and citations from notable events such as the Hot Docs Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival.

Among Loretta's credits are the documentary Today is a Good Day: Remembering Chief Dan George, and productions with the National Film Board of Canada, including Forgotten Warriors, Hands of History and The Learning Path. Her most recent film is entitled Kainayssini Imanistaisiwa � The People Go On, and deals with issues of repatriation in an innovative manner. Two of her short dramatic scripts were produced for television, and she is currently developing feature films. Ms. Todd is also known for her insightful writing and speaking on Aboriginal art and media issues. Ms. Todd is Metis / Cree, originally from Northern Alberta.

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Kainayssini Imanistaisiwa The People Go On . . .

Repatriation . . .
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For more about Aboriginals and media stereotypes . . .
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