For those who wanted an English translation: here’s Jason Béliveau’s defense of Dominic Gagnon’s “of the North” in Magazine Spirale
A few people have asked for an English translation of the article that appeared in Magazine Spirale defending Dominic Gagnon’s film “of the North.” Prior to the publication of my article about the film, Mr. Gagnon’s wife (whom I had not previously ever met or communicated with) sent me this out of the blue by way of a rebuttal. I am not a professional translator, but I have done my best to give as close an English interpretation as I could manage for those who wanted to respond to it. I welcome any corrections.
The Case of “of the North”
By Jason Béliveau
NB: At the time of this writing, I had not yet been able to view the film
The controversy around the screenings of the experimental collage of the North at the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) now brings me to the practice of Dominic Gagnon, “cameraless” director who is relatively unknown, at least so far. The Inuit artist Tanya Tagaq called the film racist and hurtful on Twitter and several media. The singer is offended by the depiction of intoxicated Inuit that she considers outrageous, reducing them to stereotypes that promote violence. Since then, the RIDM defended its selection of the film in a statement, saying they considered it “a critical discourse on colonialism and its devastating impacts yet to date.” Tagaq considered this response an insult. She also asked Gagnon to withdraw one of her musical pieces used without his consent in the film under penalty of prosecution, a request to which Gagnon has bowed.
Will of the North be another demanding work sacrificed on the altar of moral righteousness? Does the film lean toward abject discrimination? Many have criticised Gagnon for never having bisited the North and thus offering a monolithic version of the realities faced by its residents. Should we ban of the North the way we banned wearing Native headdresses at the Osheaga festival?
The Method and Proposition
At the risk of being accused of paternalism (an adjective that sows the winds), I understand Tagaq to be shocked by the film and using social networks to talk about. Although I deeply disagree with her. Being of Inuit origin, should she be free from any form of criticism? Basically, and with reason, Tagaq digs in her heels to prevent skeletons being dragged out of a closet that has been kept condemned by decades of deep shame, of which we are historically the instigators. The images chosen and edited by Gagnon are the symptoms of a deeply anchored pain. Tagaq may well combine her own work with grotesque images of Native represented in cinema, of warriors smeared with red paint (played by Spaniards or Italians in period westerns) as “noble savages.” This is as much stereotype as the other. The difference is here, the cliché is particularly embarrassing (“drunkard”) and puts itself — all the nuance is there — on display. Do we need to specify that all the images of the North are readily available on YouTube? Gagnon proposes a second means of diffusion by presenting an exchange of images whose intentions are obviously far from visible.
Although much has been written, and even too much already, about this story over the last few days, little has been said about those who appear in the film. As if they were accessories to the debate. Stripped of their humanity, or at least the little they have left according to some stakeholders, they are the exemplification of a problem or victims. As the welfare recipients of another “shock documentary,” Simon Gaudreau’s Fucké, the subjects of of the North, even if they are not in remission, and therefore recoverable, do not have to be concealed. Upon contact, it is possible to feel pity for them, to be affected by their condition, to maybe even laugh (sacrilege!) at them. Is it politically correct? The visceral, even if it unseats or discomforts, need not be concealed. One must sometimes you shrug off the mediation projects shared on Facebook in order to soothe one’s conscience. How can we not pass through ugliness in order to be aware of it?
of the North should not be seen by everyone: it is a work that must be put into context and then discussed, whose darkness is assumed as such, without intradiegetic comment. It is not irrational to believe that the film can positively affect our manner (ours, those of privileged whites) of seeing the aboriginal issue, by shedding our candy-pink blinders. To understand, despite the official speeches, that a serious problem is still present in northern communities. Finally, critics who consider that Gagnon should have visited the North before making his film are missing the point of his work, which is not made up of ethnographic immersion experiences, but of questions of self-representation by marginal or marginalized groups in the globalizing era of YouTube. In terms of travesty of reality, Robert Flaherty, when he filmed Nanook of the North in 1920–1921, did not surrender his crown. And yet.
Let’s end on the positive. In recent memory Jeff Barnaby’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls is one of the few Canadian feature films to deal with indigenous issues without complacency, without snowflake sensitivity. Born in the Listujug [sic] Mi’kmaq reserve in Gaspésie [Translator’s note: There is no linguistic, cultural, or historical connection between Mi’kmaq and Inuit cultures at all. Listuguj is roughly 1,500km from Iqaluit. The only thing the two peoples have in common is that they existed here when Europeans arrived, and that non-Indigenous people presume both Inuit and Natives to be drunken, violent, self-destructive criminals. The term “Indigenous” refers to a huge variety of cultures generally lumped together by people who don’t know the difference between them.] Barnaby has achieved with that film the blow of a indictment that goes against stereotypes that idiots have been rehashing for decades.
Abuse by the Canadian government, addiction issues, drug trafficking: as he charts the difficult path of the young Aila on the fictitious reserve Red Crow in the 70’s, Barnaby operates with Rhymes a kind of historical revisionism by fire, not far from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. All seen from the inside with enthusiasm and formal inventiveness that could be called unusual. An electrical discharge that deserved the same media attention as of the North.