Documentary films are tricky things. Directors choose subjects that will attract as many people as possible in order to bring light to different subjects. It could be a subject they are passionate about or just one that is a hot topic. Within the recent RIDM (Montreal International Film Festival) a big controversy erupted over one such film.
of the North by director Dominic Cooper attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. He had constructed this 74 minute documentary using videos from YouTube and porn videos with the subject being indigenous people from Northern Quebecand Nunavut. The film screened twice during the festival and was part of the Official Competition section. It has also screened at different festivals around the world in places like England, Kosovo and even won a prize at the Vision du Reel film festival in Switzerland.
The experimental film, which was funded by Quebec’s arts council, has been panned, heavily criticized and even threatened with legal action by throat singer Tanya Tagaq. She, along with other members of the indigenous community, has tagged the film as a racist depiction of indigenous people that reinforces stereotypes. Going further they say that the images in the film will encourage violence against this community. Tagaq’s lawyer has filed a cease and desist order against the film for using her music in it.
Gagnon, who admits he has never been to any of the communities depicted, has defended himself saying it was meant to create discussion and is not a racist product. He says this is one part of a four part film series in which he investigates the videos that people post online of themselves.
Now the people behind the RIDM festival, including festival director Mara Gourd-Mercado and artistic director, Charlotte Selb, have issued their response:
Montreal, November 26, 2015 – Following the two screenings of of the North by Dominic Gagnon at this year’s Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM), the festival team received numerous complaints about the film and its inclusion in the festival. Without claiming to speak for the filmmaker, we take these reactions and comments very seriously and would like to issue the following statement.
For 18 years, the RIDM has annually presented more than 100 local and international documentaries. We have always sought to represent the diversity of perspectives, topics and approaches in the documentary genre. We strive to select works with original, relevant and unique approaches, with the aim of shedding light on urgent global and local issues. It is fundamental to the RIDM’s mission that it present points of view that do not leave people indifferent to the people and stories presented on screen. Nevertheless, we do not aim to program works that are indefensible or simply provocative.
Far from seeing of the North as a racist work, it was programmed as a critical discourse on colonialism and its still devastating impacts, through a montage of images recorded and uploaded to YouTube by Inuit peoples. We believe that this film confronts stereotypes that have afflicted Inuit peoples.
Nevertheless, we are conscious of the harshness of the images in the film and sincerely regret the harm these images have had on members of the public. We recognize that we should have provided more context for the work and the filmmaker’s approach, beyond the usual space we provide for the public to discuss works with filmmakers after each screening. We should have provided a better forum for conversation about this work to ensure an inclusive and respectful space for everyone to express their point of view on the film.
The debates sparked by this film are very important to us, and will inspire us to improve the framework in which we show the films we present.
– The administration of the RIDM