directed by Michelle Latimer
by Angelo Muredda "You have to watch out for the stories you're told," Thomas King dryly intones early in Michelle Latimer's Inconvenient Indian as he ambles through a repertory-cinema lobby and sits down in his chair in Toronto's Fox Theatre to take in the film we're ostensibly watching. Latimer's unorthodox essay film, which doubles as a curatorial programme on the futures of Indigenous art and life emerging from a history of settler colonialism, is energized by that cautionary note about the high stakes of storytelling, a seemingly benign activity that's charged with both generative and destructive power. It cuts through the blizzard of whitewashed, endlessly recirculated images of Indigenous people as cultural throwbacks, from Nanook of the North onward, to anchor itself in Indigenous work of the present.
True to the title's provocation, Inconvenient Indian is a rambunctious, aesthetically playful adaptation of the author's eponymous nonfiction essay that isn't content to simply pay homage to a hallowed literary figure in Canadian letters. Latimer smartly conceives of King as both a wry cultural guide and just one of many Indigenous creators and audience members--some of whom we see filtering into the theatre behind him as light from the screen flickers on their faces--who have long been forced to see themselves as empty golems in the colonial imagination. It reframes his text as a cultural launchpad for conversations with and visual showcases of a wide range of Indigenous filmmakers, visual artists, musicians, and designers, whose vibrant work and, in some cases, everyday cultural practices, serve as a direct rejoinder to the white-settler imagination's insistence that Indigenous culture is static, a museum exhibit from the past.
To that old fixation on centring so-called colonial progress by reproducing images of what King calls "Dead Indians," Latimer offers a vital presentist document. Refusing the static archives that collect ephemera of Indigenous life and offer it up for the consumption of white spectators (which she surveys early on in slow tracking shots through an uninviting museum), her film creates a more capacious counter-gallery, where spectators can instead observe and participate in a very much living art. Programme: TIFF Docs