SFU’s student-run Indigenous film festival Skoden aims to further crucial conversations

Student organizers of the event speak on their experiences of working on Skoden

Illustration: Samaqani Cocahq and Natalie Sappier / Skoden International Film Festival
Illustration: Samaqani Cocahq and Natalie Sappier / Skoden International Film Festival

by Kim Regala, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: Kim Regala is involved in SIFF’s organization through CA 334. 

Here to celebrate and feature the works of Canadian-based Indigenous filmmakers is the Skoden Indigenous Film Festival (SIFF). Skoden, which is Indigenous slang for “let’s go then,” is a unifying word that carries the spirit of bringing people together from nations far and wide. This year, SIFF brings forth a diverse selection of Indigenous films from all across Canada, aiming to continue the conversation of reconciliation at SFU.

The initiative for Skoden started with two former SFU film students, Carr Sappier (Wolastoqiyik) and Grace Mathisen. In a previous interview with The Peak, the two expressed their desire for a more proactive approach at reconciliation. Mathisen noticed that there was a lack of Indigenous representation within the classroom due to the lack of engagement from Indigenous perspectives. “A lot of our courses have an Indigenous component and [the School for Contemporary Arts] is supposed to be an institution creating the next generation of artists,” said Mathisen. “What does that mean when there’s such a small representation of Indigenous students in our classrooms?”

But what began as the students’ passion project for Indigenous voices has now been redeveloped in its second year, as a new collaborative SCA course. Open to all SFU students interested in organizing the event, this semester’s team is composed of twelve eager students (myself included), led by SCA instructor Sky Hopinka.

Reaching out to this semester’s student festival committee, The Peak spoke with members Connor Desharnais and Paulina Thiessen about their experiences of working on SIFF.

“My favourite part of the process so far has just been watching all of the films with my fellow students,” said Desharnais. “We get to watch so many neat films and it’s gotten me super excited about the festival.” 

Thiessen added that her favourite part about the course is being able to interact with new perspectives on film. “I am used to working alone on assignments, so this collaborative experience has really opened my eyes to using different viewpoints and frameworks in regard to works of film. My peers are often bringing up points about certain films that I didn’t notice, and I think it’s making me a more critical thinker about film.”

When asked about some of the challenges that the class has encountered in planning the festival, the two agreed that it came down to choices that had to be made for the programmes. 

“We received hundreds of submissions from all over the world,” Thiessen pointed out. “It has been so amazing to be able to see such a diversity of Indigenous voices, but it is so hard to decide which ones have a spot at the festival.” 

Desharnais also added that “not only that, but once we’ve decided on the films we want to show, we have to decide how we want to schedule the films into our final program, which is a lot harder than it sounds.”

While the selection process has definitely been a tricky one, Thiessen felt that the submissions were both inspiring and important. “They really offer an important perspective on Indigenous issues, especially with regards to current events.” 

On a more lighthearted note, Desharnais added that the festival is “also just a great occasion to go out with some friends (or even by yourself) and watch some movies.”

That being said, the student committee has worked incredibly hard over the semester to curate a wide selection of films that will hopefully bring forward the many voices of Indigenous artists across Canada. These genre-defying programmes offer you everything and more, from documentary shorts to experimental works, music videos to films set to spoken word poetry, and even a Vancouver-based feature film.

Thiessen hopes that attendees are able to recognize and admire the unique and visually alluring works of these Indigenous creatives. 

“Many of our selected films showcase important conversations that we all need to have as Canadians on Unceded lands.”

“My hope,” Desharnais said, “is that, after watching some fun, interesting, and thought-provoking film, attendees will have the enthusiasm to continue the conversation about Indigenous narratives long after the festival ends.”

Thiessen agreed, adding that “many of our selected films showcase important conversations that we all need to have as Canadians on Unceded lands.”

This year’s festival offers four film programmes and will be held at the Harbour Centre on March 27 at 7 p.m., and March 28 at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m.