Luminous Territories glows with beautiful and insightful Indigenous storytelling

This collection of four short films visually shine in their depth

SFU alum Jade Baxter’s short film Beyond Hope explores small town life through simple visuals. Courtesy of Jade Baxter and Mackenzie Reid Rostad.

By: Madeleine Chan, Staff Writer

I didn’t know so much could be said in such little time, but Luminous Territories tells it all. Presented by The Cinematheque in partnership with the Contemporary Art Gallery, Luminous Territories is a collection of four short films curated by Emily Dundas Oke and Maria-Margaretta that were screened online from June 5 to 7. The collection aimed to explore the “intersections between land and memory” by contemplating “how the sovereignty of storytelling arises in our day-to-day life through embodied articulations, dance, and or DIY culture.”

The first film Tsanizid (2019) was performed and directed by Beric Manywounds, a “Two Spirit writer, filmmaker, and intermedia performance artist from the Tsuut’ina Nation of Treaty 7.” A movement piece that ran for only six minutes, it depicted, as described at the end of the film, a “Two Spirit transformation ceremony.” The visuals were stunning, with a soft glowing moon centered against the darkness of the night sky and Manywounds lit in hues of purple, blue, and pink. It was almost hypnotic because of the delayed effect used to make it seem like there were multiple echoes of Manywounds. Even though no words were said, I could still understand the deep inner exploration that the movements seemed to convey.

Birds in the Earth (2018), created by Finnish photographic and video artist Marja Helander ran for only 11 minutes but felt eternal in its message. The film featured two ballerinas synchronously dancing against various vast landscapes and buildings to soothing yet disconcerting melodies. My favourite part of the piece was when the pair stopped dancing and covered the words “State-owned” on a direction sign so that it only read “land.” It was hauntingly beautiful, with a tinge of a hopeful sadness. 

SFU alumni Jade Baxter from the Nlaka’pamux Nation directed the next film Beyond Hope (2016), which also clocked in at 11 minutes. This one explored life in the small town of Lytton, which is located about an hour’s drive north of Hope in the interior of BC. It was told through the lens of Minnie, a young radio host, as she “listens and broadcasts the tale of The Boy and Owl into her community.” I adored the cinematography in this film as it had really innovative framing, simple visuals, and told a whole story even without much of a plot. I particularly liked the framing in one shot where it felt like the viewer was in the backseat of Minnie’s truck, staring out the window at the passing hills, as if we were along for the ride. 

The last film D.I.Y (2019) was written and directed by Taran Kootenhayoo, a “Denesułįné and Stoney Nakoda multi-disciplinary storyteller from Treaty 6 territory, Alberta” who currently lives in Vancouver. Based on a real experience, the film told the story of a young skateboarder and his spontaneous yet meaningful conversation with an older man at a skatepark. In the panel that was available to view after the four films, Kootenhayoo explained that it was about the exploration of being on a territory that is not your own and finding a piece of it there. In this case, it was in a stranger. In five short minutes, it was still able to remind me of similar unexpected but significant encounters with strangers, and almost make me miss the potential for those to happen.

In addition, the ensuing panel allowed the directors and curators to talk more about how their work connects (or doesn’t) to the land they are on and their struggles with land in relation to identity, culture, and current controversies, giving even more depth to their stories.

Luminous Territories brought four short films together to create a screening that feels like a whole saga of captivating storytelling in itself. Check out The Cinematheque for future screenings that I am sure will be as beautiful and rich as this one proved to be.