Political Matters – March 2020

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By Mordecai Specktor

Zombie apocalypse on the rez

And now for something completely different: In “Blood Quantum,” the second feature film from director Jeff Barnaby (Mi’gmaq), a crew of ravenous zombies has created chaos on the fictional Red Crow Indian Reservation. And apart from the graphic violence, blood and viscera onscreen, the film operates as an allegory of colonialism, according to the director.

Barnaby told City News (Toronto) that the story unspooled in “Blood Quantum” was inspired by his childhood memories of watching horror films, like “Night of the Living Dead,” and also Alanis Obomsawin’s documentary “Incident at Restigouche,” which deals with the 1981 Quebec Provincial Police raid on the Restigouche Reserve, an act of repression against the Mi’gmaqs’ exercise of their salmon fishing rights.

“Blood Quantum” will be the closing night film of INDIgenesis: GEN 3, the third annual Native film series at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, March 19-28. The zombie film set in a First Nation community is a “rare gem,” according to Missy Whiteman, curator of the INDIgenesis film series.

Whiteman herself is a screenwriter, director and producer. Her 2016 film “The Coyote Way: Going Back Home,” which was shot at Little Earth in South Minneapolis, will be shown as part of the March 19 opening night program – an evening of “expanded cinema,” which will include archival found footage and performances by DJ AO (Hopi /Mdewakatonwan Dakota), Sacramento Knoxx (Ojibwe/Chicano), Lumhe “Micco” Sampson (Mvskoke Creek/ Seneca), and Michael Wilson (Ojibwe). This is a free event.

During a phone interview in February, Whiteman agreed with my assessment that “Blood Quantum” is a bracing work of cinema, and she said that promotional materials will include a warning about its explicit content. “My 16-year-old will probably watch it, but my nine-year-old probably won’t want to watch it,” she commented. “It’s at the viewer’s discretion. There may be some teenagers that like zombie apocalypse movies or may like horror films.” Whiteman also points out that, for example, a documentary about Wounded Knee likely would likely include the iconic image of Chief Big Foot dead in the snow, which also is “traumatizing and horrific – and there’s really no disclaimer there.”

I’ve been to film screenings in the INDIgenesis series over the previous two years. The films, including last year’s evening of Sundance Institute Native short films, are compelling; and there’s a cool vibe at the Walker during these evenings. The third edition of INDIgenesis features films on a wide variety of contemporary issues.

The March 20 program, “Indigenous Lens: Our Reality,” will screen seven short films, “a collection of contemporary stories about what it means to be Indigenous today, portraying identity and adaptability in a colonialist system,” according to the Walker press release. “The program spans a spectrum of themes, including two-spirit transgender love, coming of age, reflections on friends and fathers, ‘indigenizing’ pop art, and creative investigations into acts of repatriation.”

Most of the evenings will include post-show discussions with the filmmakers and actors. Whiteman mentioned that Forrest Goodluck, who has a featured role “Blood Quantum,” will be at the Walker and participate in a post-screening Q&A. Goodluck’s feature film debut was in the 2015 film “The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, acting opposite Leonardo DiCaprio.

On March 27, “Ohiyesa: The Soul of an Indian,” directed by Syd Beane (Flandreau Santee Sioux) and Dakota Eastman Productions, will be shown. The film features historian Kate Beane, who traces the journey of her relative Ohiyesa (Charles Eastman), from his childhood among the Santee Dakota in Minnesota to his celebrated accomplishments as a physician, author, and lecturer on Native life and issues early in the previous century.

“Indigenous artists use the creative process of filmmaking for revitalization and narrative sovereignty,” Whiteman notes, in the Walker press release. “Our stories tell us where we came from, re-create our truths, affirm our languages and culture, and inspire us to imagine our Indigenous future. We come from the stars. How far will we take this medium?”

“I love movies, I’ve always loved movies,” Whiteman told me. She has committed to seven years as curator of the INDIgenesis film series – and it remains to be seen what transpires in years four through seven. Whiteman mentioned that Sheryl Mousley, senior curator of Moving Image at the Walker is retiring. “She’s really supported indigenous cinema and indigenous filmmakers,” said Whiteman.

The GEN 3 screenings are “going to be really fun and good – you should come,” Whiteman said in closing. “We’ve really put a lot into this year’s series, and been mindful about who we’re inviting.”

Like Missy Whiteman, I’m excited about the offerings in INDIgenesis GEN 3.