Cinemas across Toronto featured the 15th annual Planet in Focus Film Festival from Nov. 6 to 9. The festival, of which York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) is one of the co-sponsors, brought pressing environmental and political concerns to audiences.
The film festival has intimate ties with York University, and particularly the Faculty of Environmental Studies. Perhaps most notably, the festival itself was founded by Mark Haslam, who completed a master in environmental studies and a master of fine arts at York in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Furthermore, this year, FES alumna Tzeporah Berman, who graduated in 1995, was named the 2014 Canadian Eco-Hero for her work in environmental activism.
FES was in strong attendance at film festival screenings across the city. On Nov. 7 at York University, FES Dean Noël Sturgeon introduced fellow faculty member Martha Stiegman’s film, Honour Your Word.
Stiegman’s film highlights the lives of the Algonquins of Barriere Lake, who have been struggling against the government of Quebec since the late 1980s. The film focuses on their resistance against provincial and federal resource policies, and the appropriation of un-ceded indigenous land.
In 1991, the Algonquins of Barriere Lake signed a trilateral agreement with the provincial and federal governments, which would have protected their traditional lands and implemented revenue sharing programs, yet it was never instituted. Stiegman’s film presents an intimate glimpse into a community persevering despite oppressive police presence and resource politics.
At the Art Gallery of Ontario, on the evening of Nov. 7, FES Associate Dean Research Ravi de Costa introduced the prolific indigenous filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin’s newest documentary concerning the Idle No More movement and Treaty Number Nine, titled Trick or Treaty.
In stark contrast to the intimacy of Stiegman’s Honour Your Word, Obomsawin’s Trick or Treaty manages to capture the massive scale of the Idle No More movement, as well as the vast geopolitical effect of Treaty Number Nine.
The treaty, which covers more than half of Ontario and some of Manitoba, has had dramatic implications upon the lives of indigenous people in Northern Ontario. Obomsawin’s Trick or Treaty was selected for the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival’s Audience Choice Award earlier this month.
As Ravi de Costa suggested in his introduction to Obomsawin’s film, the Planet in Focus “festival has a commitment to telling indigenous stories.” Certainly the films by Stiegman and Obomsawin evidenced this fact.
By Dylan McMahon, Faculty of Environmental Studies graduate assistant