With a prolific career as a documentary filmmaker spanning more than 54 years and 53 films – and counting – Alanis Obomsawin has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“The people say, ‘you’re not going to retire’. I don’t have time to retire,” the 89-year-old filmmaker says during a sit-down interview at ET Canada’s Festival Lounge at the Shangri-La in Toronto. “I feel very excited about any subject that I decide to do and listening to, especially when I’m dealing with older people because their knowledge is so incredible every time we lose one is that, ‘Oh, this is like a lot of knowledge that perhaps you never read before is gone.’ So it’s very, very important to hear the words from me. The word is sacred.”
Calling attention to Indigenous voices and issues for more than five decades, Obomsawin is being honoured by TIFF for her life’s work this year and the release of the new short film, “Honour To Senator Murray Sinclair” which looks at Sinclair’s Reconciliation speech. The film is another entry into her body of work which Obomsawin says wasn’t always easy to find support for.
“The support that I received wasn’t always easy, I can tell you that. But it’s so important because it’s our history and for our people, especially, you know, 40 years ago, to have a place and be heard was for me the most important [and] to hear it from themselves,” she says. “I think my main battle was really education, the system and how bad it was with the licensing – you start school, you’re five years old and they’re teaching us how bad our people were and we’re savages and all that terrible language. And this is why I’m here still today because I revolted against it.”
She continues, “I am so thankful that I’ve lived this long to see the difference, what’s happening today and people being respected and, I mean, in court, everywhere from this institution. The system must change a lot. All those [history] books are wrong, thank God, and it’s a different time.”
Though this has been a year of mourning for not just the Indigenous community but all Canadians, Obomsawin says now is the best time for Indigenous voices to be able to be heard.
“Canadians can learn from our people directly. We have a lot of people that are professional and all the disciplines we can name. I feel that where we’re going, we have never been there before,” she says. “Across the country – I’m not saying everything is perfect, that’s not true – but what we have today never had before and I tell people, young people in particular if there was a time where the doors are open and anything you wish to do, you can do it.”
“We couldn’t talk like that 40 years ago,” she adds. “So imagine that there’s been a lot of changes, there’s a lot of good people everywhere. In any nationality, and I’m so glad that I feel it’s being recognized. People themselves, just by learning and realizing that the past history was very bad and being able to to learn what the real story is and being able to care and respect of people, I just think it’s a very different and important time.”