Indigenous directors explore pandemic life through short films in NFB online project


Two Indigenous directors have made short films about the COVID-19 pandemic that are being featured in a National Film Board of Canada online project called The Curve. 

The project offers a personal look into the experiences of filmmakers, animators and digital storytellers, and how their lives have been changed by the pandemic. 

When the pandemic hit Toronto, Ojibway filmmaker Cole Forrest and his partner left their apartment in the city and returned to their home community of Nipissing First Nation, near North Bay, Ont. 

For Forrest, this return forced him to face his fears and resulted in him reconnecting with his community in a new way.

“A lot of the pandemic has been based around my anxiety,” said Forrest. 

“I thought coming home was also a way of healing those things because this is a safe space.”

Cole Forrest is an Ojibway filmmaker based in Toronto, originally from Nipissing First Nation. (NFB)

The title of his film is Nbisiing, which is the Ojibway name for Lake Nipissing — nibi means water. 

Forrest said the film is about his love for his community and that through the filmmaking process, his bond with the community, the land and the water was deepened.

“This process has really sort of opened me up in a new way,” he said. 

This is the first documentary-style film that Forrest has done.

“It was almost like peeling back another layer, learning how to be more vulnerable through documentation.”

He said that he does a lot of work with film photography and some days while taking a break from work he would walk around the community taking photos. 

“There are so many beautiful, unique things that I discovered through this single person process of the film that I want to capture in new ways now,” Forrest said. 

Exploring confinement

In his short film, Métis filmmaker Conor McNally draws parallels between the pandemic and the experience that his brother Riley had while under house arrest. 

In Very Present, the Edmonton-based director explores the experience of time while also drawing attention to and connections between themes of police brutality and COVID-19 lockdown. 

Conor McNally is a Métis filmmaker from Edmonton. (NFB)

“Riley talks about something bad that happened to him, but then he also talks about his own strategies of overcoming that darkness,” said McNally. 

He said he and his brother have been in each other’s social bubbles since the pandemic began and have been staying isolated. That’s where the parallels between the isolation from the pandemic and his brother’s experience came from.

The title of the film also gives an unintentional nod to McNally’s process as he shoots on film opposed to digital, which he said forces him to be “very present.” 

McNally said he hopes people will be able to take away a feeling of hope when they watch the film. 

“When something really bad happens, like, say, the pandemic or getting beaten up by police, there is hope at the end of the day,” he said.

Nbisiing and Very Present are available to watch online through NFB at The Curve.

Read more at CBC.ca