In 2001, the Ullus Collective took a bold step and organized an exhibition of indigenous artists at the Kelowna Art Gallery, in cooperation with the gallery and the National Film Board. On Feb. 11, Reel Roots 2011 celebrates its 10th year of exhibiting work in film by emerging indigenous artists.
“We are excited about our 10th anniversary and this year’s programming theme. The digital videos will showcase modern methods of storytelling, sharing real stories about real indigenous people,” said festival co-ordinator Tracey Bonneau. Tonight’s opening for Reel Roots is the beginning of a series of events including screenings, workshops and artist talks to be held throughout the Okanagan Valley.
The Ullus Collective is a regional group of independent Indigenous media artists in the Okanagan who have been working collectively since 1985. The name Ullus is a Syilx word translating as “a gathering of people for a common purpose.”
For this festival, that common purpose is to showcase indigenous diversity and cultural storytelling through media imagery.
“The works featured through this year’s exhibition and festival activities will serve to dispel myths and misconceptions about indigenous people,” said Bonneau.
One of the filmmakers whose work will be shown at the festival is Levi Bent, who is studying filmmaking with Bonneau at En’owkin.
“It’s quite beautifully done, I am very proud of his film,” said Bonneau of the short black and white film depicting dancers at powwows.
A dancer himself, Levi Bent knew what he wanted to express when he started making a short film celebrating his culture. He’s also studying Syilxchen (Okanagan) at the En’owkin Centre — eventually planning to become a teacher of the language.
The result is a short film with Bent combining English and Syilxchen in an ode to the dancers, talking about the wonder and joy of dancing.
“All three of the dances have an inspirational gift that I wanted to capture,” he said. The film starts with a young dancer, moves to an adult and then to and older dancer; it was a deliberate choice by Bent to echo the cycle of life.
While the film is in black and white, with a grainy archival feel, it was all shot by Bent much more recently. The juxtaposition of old and new was another intentional effect.
“This is the way we dance now, our culture is continuing on,” said Bent, explaining how he wanted to connect the modern culture with the deep roots it has in the past.
Bent’s voice floats over the dancers in the film, as he tries to bring the lyrical qualities of Syilxchen to the film.
There is a rhythm to the way the elders speak, said Bent, explaining how he wanted to have that same rhythm, have that poetic type of flow in the song.
“The language is beautiful, the dancing is beautiful,” he said. “That’s why I used both languages. Pride in our culture, passion in the dance and optimism for the future.”
The Indigenous Media Arts Exhibition gets underway at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11 with a gala evening at the Kelowna Gallery, featuring a vocal performance by Tiinesh Begay, winner of the 2010 Native American Music Awards for best female artist. The evening will also include a live performance from the Reel Roots 2011 music video 4 My Natives, produced by Sam Mitchell with vocals by John Terbasket, a student in the National Aboriginal Professional Artists Training Program program at En’owkin.