Turn on the news in Canada, and you will see many negative stories surrounding the country’s First Nations population. From missing and murdered women to residential schools to extreme poverty on reservation lands, it gives a person the impression that things look bleak for this population. Fortunately, there are many positive stories about Canada’s Indigenous people that, unfortunately, Canadians don’t get to see or hear enough of. Stories of hope, economic well-being and change for the better do exist. One of these stories is best told in the 10:57 short documentary film Tshiuetin (2016) directed by First Nations filmmaker Caroline Monnet. Tshiuetin is the second short film that Caroline made under the label DESC Images; a company founded in 2014 by Caroline, along with Daniel Watchorn, Eric Cinq-Mars and Sébastien Aubin.
Tshiuetin (pronounced T- shee –way- tin and translates to ‘North Wind’ in the Innu language) explores the operations of Canada’s first First Nations-owned railway line. Established in 2005, Tshiuetin Railway Inc. runs between Sept-Iles and Schefferville and serves a number of communities along the way. As the train winds its way through lighted tunnels and snowy mountainsides, the conductor of the train explains how the ways in which the railway has been a benefit to him and to the community at large. Watch the entire film below:
Short Film Fan reached out to Caroline to learn more about Tshiuetin, including why the film was shot in black & white and what the audience reception has been like since its release.
Short Film Fan: What motivated or influenced you to make Tshiuetin?
Caroline Monnet: Tshiuetin is an inspiring story of triumph and determination for Aboriginal communities. For the first time in Canadian history, a railroad is owned by a group of First Nations. It is important for DESC to create stories that celebrate the resilience of indigenous people. We speak about success stories in a way that is very removed from what is portrayed in the media.
SFF: What particular challenge did you face when making this documentary?
CM: The best thing was travelling up north with a small team and meeting wonderful people along the way. We were truly part of this journey with a bunch of Innu families. And even though we were two Indigenous persons on the crew, we don’t speak the Innu language and we were like foreigners on the train. The Tshiuetin Rail Transportation staff was very helpful and giving. The film could not have developed the way it did without their kindness and support. Another challenging part was shooting outside the train in minus 40-degree weather.
SFF: Why did you decide to film Tshiuetin in black & white, rather than colour?
CM: The documentary is shot in black and white, using 16mm film. This speaks to the history of building the railways, but is also appropriate in capturing the beauty of the people that live along the Tshiuetin Railway. The 16mm film allows for an elegant cinematic and experimental feel to the documentary, staying away from conventional talking heads and video aesthetics. With using black and white film, it brings back the tradition of documentary filmmaking in Canada, inspiring myself from films like Pour lasuite du Monde or La bête Lumineuse from Pierre Perrault and Michel Brault.
SFF: What was it like to have Tshiuetin nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary this year?
CM: It’s a wonderful experience and recognition to be nominated for a Canadian Screen Award. There were a lot of great films nominated this year and it’s an honour to be nominated amongst them. We don’t make the films to win, but it’s always nice to be included at such prestigious awards.
SFF: What has the audience reception towards the film been like since its release?
CM: We’ve got really good responses since the film had its world premiere at TIFF this past September. It went on to play many festivals including Festival du Nouveau Cinéma, ImagineNATIVE, Uppsala, Tampere and Busan. Because the film was produced by CBC Docs, it rapidly became available online which allowed us to reach broader audiences. We reached over 60 000 people like that. The film is like a road movie and I think many people haven’t travelled that far North in Québec so it is quite exciting to see the film.
SFF: What message or messages did you want to get across to the audience with Tshiuetin?
CM: It’s imperative to showcase positive stories about Indigenous achievements. At this point in Canadian history, media coverage often tends to focus on the darker issues. We need to hear about both sides because our national understanding of Indigenous culture is warped by a bombardment of pessimism. Tshiuetin is about positive change.
Short Film Fan Review: Tshiuetin was definitely an incredible story of economic power and community strength for a First Nations community. Owning and operating a short line railway takes lots of work and dedication which is very evident among the employees in the film. The black & white images throughout the film were stunning; it really is a reminder of the older documentaries that were filmed in the 1950s and 1960s. Watching the trees go by so quickly makes you feel like you were right there with the other passengers on that ride. This is certainly a good news story that more Canadians should watch.
DESC’s goal is to continue to push boundaries and expand creatively working with film, sound composing and graphic design. We hope to see more short films from Caroline and DESC Images in the near future!
Toronto is home to many film festivals, and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is by far the city’s best known. Film buffs from around the world descend upon TIFF each year to watch and enjoy features and shorts from Canada and around the globe. If you’re lucky, you even get a chance to see some of Hollywood’s finest actors as they make their appearance to TIFF. Over the years, TIFF has become a huge cultural event that puts the film spotlight directly on Canada.
For film fans, and for short film fans in particular, you’ll be pleased to know that you can experience TIFF outside of its annual fall programming by way of TIFF Short Cuts. Shown at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in downtown Toronto, TIFF Short Cuts screens a variety of Canadian and world-wide short films. If you’re unable to visit Toronto for any reason and would like to experience TIFF Short Cuts, have no fear. TIFF’s outreach program, TIFF Film Circuit, makes its appearance in many Canadian communities each year.
Short Film Fan reached out to Laura Good, programmer of TIFF Short Cuts and TIFF Film Circuit, to get a better understanding of what Short Cuts is all about and what is planned for Short Cuts programming this year.
Short Film Fan: What is TIFF Short Cuts?
Laura Good: TIFF Short Cuts is a programming stream dedicated to showcasing short film. The year round Short Cuts series is named as an extension of the Short Cuts section at the Toronto International Film Festival. We host monthly screenings that feature the best of international short film, spanning all genres, sensibilities and styles with a focus on innovation, originality, representation and impact.
Short Cuts allows audiences to sample cinema from all over the globe, in one sitting, and in my opinion, it is some of the most important filmmaking in the world. Short film is a birthplace of innovation and is often the first place we see global trends emerge in terms of both content and form. Since the format is able to be nimble and reactive, it is often the most accurate reflection of our current zeitgeist, as well.
SFF: What is your role with Short Cuts?
LG: I program and host the series, so I get to assemble programs of some of the most incredible short filmmaking in the world and present them to Toronto audiences. There are, generally speaking, far less constraints on short filmmakers than on feature filmmakers, so they have more flexibility and creative freedom. I would argue that the same freedom is inherent to short film programming.
Our recent Misfits program celebrated stories about characters who live beyond the artistic, cultural and existential status quo. It’s a beautiful thing be able to explore something like nonconformity through a diverse pack of female skateboarders who resist the patriarchy (Jennifer Reeder’s Crystal Lake), a contemporary ghost story (Connor Jessup’s Boy), and a woman who transforms into a cloud as a defense mechanism (Mark Katz’ aptly named, People Are Becoming Clouds), all in one screening slot. I feel very lucky to get to showcase such boundary-pushing work from the filmmakers who will determine the future of cinema.
I also bring in short film packages of short format work from fellow festivals and organisations. Past collaborations have included the Sundance Shorts Tour, featuring award winners from their festival, curated by Sundance’s own Mike Plante, and The Prism Prize Top Ten, featuring nominees for the prestigious award, which recognizes excellence in Canadian music videos.
SFF: How long has TIFF Short Cuts been going on for?
LG: The year round Short Cuts series has only been taking place since the opening of TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2010, but it has an old soul. TIFF programmer Magali Simard programmed the series for many years and passed the baton on to me last year.
SFF: Where in Toronto can short film fans check out Short Cuts?
LG: You can check out the Short Cuts series at the aforementioned TIFF Bell Lightbox, year-round home of the Toronto International Film Festival and hub for film lovers from Toronto and around the world. Keep an eye on the schedule here: http://www.tiff.net/#short-cuts
SFF: What kind of short films do you typically screen at Short Cuts?
LG: We show the best of world cinema including favourites from the Toronto International Film Festival, such as the hypnotizing documentary montage on the resilience of indigenous peoples across time and space – Mobilize (dir. Caroline Monnet), and the recipient of the Best Short Film award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, depicting a Senegalese family living in Paris, who find themselves at a crossroads – Maman(s) (dir. Maïmouna Doucouré). We also feature award winners from around the world, such as the Winner of the Horizons Award at the 2015 Venice Film Festival – Belladona (dir. Dubravka Turic), a remarkable Croatian film about perception and female to female empathy, and hidden gems such as the incredibly timely and impeccably cast look at the African American experience After TheStorm (dir. Jessica Oyelowo).
SFF: Do you screen only Canadian shorts at Short Cuts, or do you also feature shorts from other countries?
LG: We screen short films from around the globe. Countries represented in the past year include: Iraq, Germany, Argentina, Australia, Chile, Croatia, France, The United Kingdom, Hungary, Norway, Sweden, U.S.A., Israel and Jordan, to name a few.
It is also a priority to support the incredible filmmaking happening here at home. Every program has Canadian representation. A few Canadian films that we have recently featured include: The GrandfatherDrum (dir. Michelle Derosier), Mobilize (dir. Caroline Monnet), Bacon and God’s Wrath (dir. Sol Friedman), Boy (dir. Connor Jessup), Dredger (dir. Phillip Barker), Her Friend Adam (dir. Ben Petrie), Benjamin (dir. Sherren Lee), and World Famous Gopher Hole Museum (dir. by Chelsea Mcmullan and Douglas Nayler).
SFF: Have any filmmakers come to any of your Short Cuts screenings as guest speakers?
LG: Yes! We aim to have a filmmaker or special guest in attendance at each screening.
Director Phillip Barker and lead actress Alex Paxton-Beasley (known for Dirty Singles and TV’s MurdochMysteries) attended the screening of his visually arresting, fourth wall breaking short, Dredger, which was a part of our Summer Fever program, to talk about experimental filmmaking, sexuality and character. They also spoke about their last collaboration, Malody, and hinted at another to come.
Ben Petrie, who directed the glorious and unforgettable meltdown that is Sundance Award winner and Canada’s Top Ten selection, Her Friend Adam, also joined us to talk about his process and working with TIFF Rising Star Grace Glowicki, for our screening of the Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour.
Connor Jessup, director of the Ozu-inspired and poetically supernatural Boy attended the Misfits program. You may know him as an alumnus of the TIFF Rising Stars program which recognizes talent in front of the camera, such as his performances in Closet Monster and TV’s American Crime. The producer of Boy Ashley Shields-Muir (who also collaborated with Jessup on Little Coffins) joined us as well. They told us all about their influence and gave us a sneak peek into their next short, Lira’s Forest, which they described as having the sensibility of a live action studio Ghibli film!
Sherren Lee, director of Benjamin (a film that tackles LGBTQ adoption and surrogacy), was in attendance for an Intro and Q&A following the screening along with her lead actor Jean-Michel Le Gal to talk about feminism in film and representation in all its forms.
SFF: Many short film fans don’t live in Toronto, and therefore aren’t able to attend Short Cuts easily. Are there ways that they can experience a Short Cuts screening in their own hometown?
LG: TIFF’s national film outreach program, TIFF Film Circuit, brings the best of both short and long format filmmaking to film series’ and film festivals across Canada. Film Circuit works with 170 locations in over 150 communities spanning from Prince Rupert, B.C. to Charlottetown, P.E.I.
I program many of the Canadian shorts that we play at the Short Cuts series at TIFF Film Circuit locations across the country. Some locations show short film packages and others pair short films with features. TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten program travels to many of our locations and the Oscar-nominated Canadian short film Blind Vaysha (which was also an official selection of the Toronto International Film Festival and Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival), is currently prefacing many feature film screenings. Find out if there is a Film Circuit location near you, here: www.tiff.net/filmcircuit/locations
SFF: How has the audience reception been to Short Cuts?
LG: The audiences have been really engaged. One of our highest attended recent screenings was the Emerging Female Voices Spotlight – a collection of short films from some of the world’s most promising emerging female filmmakers. We used the screening as an opportunity to vocalize our commitment to gender parity and intersectional feminism. The gender gap grows dramatically in the space that typically exists between short and feature filmmaking so it’s a vital place to have that conversation. We also used the program as an entry point to a much larger conversation about inclusion, representation and empathic intelligence, and the Toronto short film community rallied!
SFF: Can we get a sneak peek into what you have planned for Short Cuts in 2017?
LG: Absolutely! Our next program – Canada, Animated – focuses on home-grown talent. It takes place on Sunday, March 5th at 1pm and explores what makes the Canadian viewpoint so unique through the work of some of our most exciting new animators. It will include Alisi Telengut’s Nutag – Homeland, a poignant, hand-painted ode to the pain of the displaced Kalmyk people of the Soviet Union, following WWII. Also feature filmmaker Robin Joseph’s Fox and the Whale, an atmospheric tale of curiosity about a fox who is drawn to the sea. Joseph will be in attendance to introduce the film and will be present for a Q&A with the audience, following the program. Take a look at the full program details for Canada, Animated here: http://www.tiff.net/events/canadian-animation
Also upcoming is Spotlight: Clermont Ferrand, a selection of recent favourites from the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival curated by Laurent Guerrier, screening Thursday, April 6th at 9pm. Highlights include Shio Chen Quesck’s Guang, an affecting Malaysian film about a young man who struggles with social interaction but finds comfort in a secret passion and Emma de Swaef and Marc Roels’ fabric based stop motion animation Oh Willy, an absurdist Nordic film about a nudist in mourning, who ventures into the woods to find solace. Take a look at the full program details for Spotlight: Clermont Ferrand here: http://www.tiff.net/events/spotlight-clermont-ferrand
Stay tuned for more programs, to be announced on a seasonal basis, throughout 2017!
Sounds like it’s going to be an excellent year of shorts programming this year at Short Cuts. A big ‘thanks’ goes to Laura and everyone at TIFF for making Canadian shorts accessible via Short Cuts, Film Circuit and TIFF itself. If you happen to catch any of the Canadian shorts at these screenings, be sure to let them know via Twitter @TIFFShortCuts @FilmCircuitTIFF and @TIFF_Net. Don’t forget to include Short Film Fan @shortfilmfan or leave a comment below. Follow TIFF on Facebook, too: https://www.facebook.com/TIFF