|Tantoo Cardinal after receiving her award tonight.|
Photo Brenda Norrell
By Brenda Norrell
Censored News Exclusive
PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- Cree actress Tantoo Cardinal was awarded the 2014 Richard M. Milanovich Award tonight for distinguished contributions to Indigenous Film.
The late Chairman Milanovich, well-loved in Indian country, was a lover of this festival, the Native Film Festival of the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum.
Milanovich's son Reid Milanovich presented the award to Tantoo Cardinal, honoring her for her personal determination to become an actress in response to the exploitation of Native people.
Following the award ceremony, the spectacular beauty of Quebec on the big screen brought life to the Cahuilla Desert. Maina, a new Native film in traditional languages, is such an extraordinary film, so complex and so amazing, that it is difficult to describe.
Foremost, Roseanne Supernault delivers an award-winning and stunning performance as an Innu hunter and chief's daughter who is becoming a woman. The actors portraying the Innu and Men from the Land of the Ice all deliver spell-binding performances, including Tantoo Cardinal as the medicine woman.
"I believe in the power of prayer, and healing and spirit," Tantoo said when asked how she prepared for the role. "It has been a part of my world." She also pointed out that the Earth along with its medicines are being destroyed by development such as the Alberta tarsands, and the current trade agreement TPP is seeking to patent traditional medicines.
Tantoo said whatever we need in order to heal is on this earth, and there are people who know how to use it. She pointed out that there is a cure for AIDS in lichen, which is being destroyed by development.
The story of Maina takes place in the Great North in an earlier time, but the issues are timeless. The spoken traditional languages in the film puts it in a category all its own, and the throat singing of the far north is extraordinary.
"I love working in languages," Tantoo said. "It was just delicious."
She said the language she speaks in the film is a dialect of her own Cree. "It just feeds my soul."
"It breaks my heart to see the languages disappearing."
As for the lead Native youth Maina being a hunter, Tantoo said among the Cree both men and women are hunters who go into the bush. Praising Roseanne, who is from her own region, Tantoo said, "It is good to see someone running through the bush who knows how to run through the bush." She didn't even get her hair tangled in the tree limbs.
The young boy in the film also delivers a stunning performance. "He's such a bright light," Tantoo said, adding that he plays piano. "He can play beautifully." The heavy hitters in the cast include Graham Greene and Eric Schweig.
The film surrounds viewers with the beauty of the north woods and northern Arctic. Speaking of Quebec, Tantoo said, "It is just magical country. It is just beautiful."
Before the screening of Maina tonight, which has not been released yet, there were three shorter films shown. It was an incredible tapestry of films, drawing the audience into the natural world, from the Mojave Desert, to the Blackfeet and Crow mountains of Montana, to the ever-evolving life of the Sonoran Desert. The short films were Mountain Memories: Spirit Mountain Wilderness, focused on the Creation Story of the Mojave; Before There were Parks: Yellowstone and Glacier Through Native Eyes shares the stories of many Native American elders.
Desert Dreams: Celebrating Five Seasons of the Sonoran Desert is a phenomena in itself, with time-lapse photography revealing the exploding red fruits of the cactus, which is breathtaking, and the creatures which make this desert their home, from the turtle and bat, to the deer, javalenas and spiders. Clouds and rain are another incredible explosion.
During questions at tonight's film festival, Tantoo was asked what is her favorite work that she has done. She said that this is a little like asking which of your children is your favorite. There's something good in each of them. But, she said, if she had to choose one tonight it would be Where the Rivers Run North, filmed in Vermont. She said she not only likes the story, and strong acting, but the way the film was made. For instance, shares were sold in the film and two guys at the local gas station each bought part of a share together. Michael J. Fox also bought a share so he could be in the film.
The film included vintage cars, so locals with vintage cars came by. "They got a free lunch" for the use of their cars in the film.
Tantoo said she is looking forward to working in theater in Victoria. "It's Rez Sisters, seven women from the rez and the trickster."
"I'm looking forward to a fun play."
Tantoo was recently a judge in the Rights of Mother Earth Tribunal in Ecuador which heard expert testimony on the ravaging of pristine lands and waters, from Australia's Barrier Reef to the Amazon, and destructive mining and fracking in the US. The Rights of Mother Earth movement began in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2010. Ecuador and Bolivia followed by enacting the Rights of Nature into their country's laws. Tantoo continues to be a voice against the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, and the tarsands mining that is destroying her Cree homeland in Alberta, Canada.
The films at the Agua Caliente Film Fest continue on Sunday, March 9, 2014, with seven short Indigenous films. The feature film is Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, in Dine' (Navajo.)
Copyright Brenda Norrell 2014