A few weeks before TIFF 2020, actor-turned-helmer Michelle Latimer is missing the cooler climes of Thunder Bay, on Lake Superior, where she grew up.
But the hottest ticket in Toronto can’t skip town before her rare premiere double-header.
In 2008, Latimer, who is of Algonquin, Metis and French heritage, left a busy acting career and has (mostly) worked behind the camera directing docs and series, notably, Viceland’s eight-parter “Rise,” about Indigenous-led resistance movements, which included an extended episode about the Standing Rock occupation protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. In January 2020, Latimer was the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Labs. She’s currently developing a dramatic feature based on the true story of Canada’s only female dangerous offender, in collaboration with Sienna Films.
This week, Latimer is one of a handful of directors attending their physically distanced in-cinema premieres. Hers include feature doc “Inconvenient Indian” (National Film Board of Canada), a cinematic spin on California-born, Canada-based author Thomas King’s 2013 bestselling critical meditation “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America”; and the first episode of CBC-TV series “Trickster,” her six-part adaptation of Eden Robinson’s novel “Son of a Trickster,” about an Indigenous teenager supporting his family as a small-time drug dealer while supernatural beings start appearing.
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While “Inconvenient Indian” isn’t a strict adaptation of King’s book, it conveys its themes and overall vibe. How did you develop your conceptual approach?
When producers Stuart Henderson (90th Parallel Prods.) and Jesse Wente (exec director, Indigenous Screen Office) approached me, my reaction was, I’m not a historian or an academic. I wanted a more formal expression after Standing Rock, which was urgent filmmaking. Photography has had a major role in the misrepresentation of Indigenous people through history. I took inspiration from (late Austrian filmmaker) Michael Glawogger and Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastião Salgado. With Indigenous films, people sometimes expect to be educated. I wanted this film to be a provocation. I wanted people to ask themselves, How am I accountable within this?
King moves through your film and is its core storyteller, but we never see him talk. There are verité scenes with your subjects but no talking heads — why?
The documentary form is in many ways very colonial; it privileges the expert interview. This is a collective story. Also, the idea of privileging words is narrative in scope; I wanted imagery to support these ideas.
What resonated for you personally while making this doc?
You face yourself when you are making a film. My generation in this story is the middle generation. We are reviving our cultural practices, while many of our parents haven’t overcome their own shame. I’m in the generation of filmmakers who came up through the Imaginative Film & Media Arts Festival and went on the international circuit. Now there’s a group of young women creators — like “Angry Inuk” director Alethea Arnaquq-Baril and Nyla Innuksuk, who created a comic-book character for Marvel (both in Latimer’s film) — who are using genre and unexpected forms to tell their stories with an expressly Inuit point of view.
Did showrunning “Rise,” a doc series, prepare you at all for that role on “Trickster”?
Every project is immersive, and I’m always somewhat naïve to that process. With “Rise,” I never guessed I’d be in the middle of the biggest protest, Standing Rock, and see how violent it was. What carried through to “Trickster” is the understanding of how important it is to tell our own stories.
“Inconvenient Indian” feels uncannily well-timed for 2020.
There’s dismantling of Western culture right now. People everywhere are looking more closely at Western value systems since the pandemic hit. What’s important is we’re asking those questions now.