Indigenous films included at five-day GEMFest in Vancouver

Wednesday, March 6th, 2024 12:14pm


Image Caption

Alexa Blyan (sitting on ground in a light coloured coat) is featured in the short film titled "Nisihkason Lex".
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

When Kaayla Whachell first heard of Alexa Blyan she knew she wanted to work with the teen.

The result is Nisihkason Lex, a 14-minute film that will be shown on March 6 at GEMFest in Vancouver.

The festival, previously called the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival, began on March 5 and continues until March 9.

Nisishkason Lex, which translates to Hello Lex in English from Cree, features Blyan, nicknamed Lex, a young Indigenous woman who lives in Lloydminster, Alta. Lex built a safe space to interview her teenaged female friends about life’s hardships.

Blyan talks about living in a small town where there’s nothing to do. She feels she won't amount to anything and will be stuck in the town forever. She also talks about how her community and friends have been affected by missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Blyan says pain has affected her and everybody she has met.

Blyan started making videos featuring her friends, titled Digital Voices, two years ago.

Whachell, a Vancouver-based cinematographer, was made aware of Blyan’s videos through some friends.

“I just loved her videos,” said Whachell, a member of the BC Métis Federation. “They were so raw and honest.”

Whachell decided to follow a similar process in the making of Nisishkason Lex.

“I think it’s so important go have Lex interviewing her friends instead of somebody else doing that,” Whachell said.

Besides interviewing her friends, Blyan also discusses what is happening in her own life.

“I think it’s an amazing way for someone this young to talk about her experiences and what she’s going through,” said Whachell, who is a graduate of the University of British Columbia’s film production program.

Nisishkason Lex will be shown as part of a GEMFest shorts program at the VIFF Centre at 1 p.m.

Tickets for the film can also be ordered for when it will be streamed online from March 12 to March 26. Online tickets can be ordered here:

Our Grandmother
A still from the film Our Grandmother the Inlet.

Another Indigenous short film that will be screened at GEMFest is Our Grandmother the Inlet.

It will be shown at the VIFF Centre on March 8 at 3 p.m.

Tickets for the film online streaming beginning March 12 are available here

Our Grandmother the Inlet looks at the life of the film’s co-director Kayah George, the great granddaughter of renowned Dan George, chief of Tsleil-Waututh Nation (one of the nations that comprise Vancouver).

Kayah’s grandmother Ta7a (Dan George’s daughter) is also featured in the film.

Kayah George has been an environmental advocate from a very young age. The film delves into her own mental health challenges and also shows her love and connection to culture, water, land and relatives.

Ta7a George is thrilled her grandmother is included in the film.

“It’s a beautiful relationship we have,” she said. “It’s very real.”

Kayah George said the intent of the film was to make a documentary so viewers could see life from an Indigenous person’s point of view.

“We made this during COVID,” Kayah said. “There was a lot going on for me (in terms of mental health challenges).”

Our Grandmother the Inlet finishes off with an upbeat message.

“Somebody told me you don’t have to have a happy ending,” said Kayah. “And I said ‘Yes, I do.’”

A total of 37 films from 14 countries are featured at GEMFest this year. This marks the 19th year of the festival, which features emerging women and gender diverse filmmakers from around the world.

Our Grandmother the Inlet
Tautuktavuk is a film about two sisters and their experiences with domestic violence.

GEMFest includes two other Indigenous films, Tautuktavuk and Redlights, which were profiled in last year.

Tautuktavuk had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this past September. It won the festival’s Amplify Voices Award as the Best BIPOC Canadian Feature.

Tautuktavuk features a pair of sisters, Uyarak and Saqpinak, who are from the Inuit hamlet of Igloolik in Nunavut. The film addresses their experiences with domestic violence.

Windspeaker’s story about Tautuktavuk can be read here

Tautuktavuk will be screened at GEMFest on March 8 at 6 p.m.

Redlights is a short film about Starlight Tours.

Redlights also had its world premiere at TIFF this past September.

This short film is directed by Eva Thomas, a member of Walpole Island First Nation in Ontario.

Redlights is about Starlight Tours, a practice of some police officers who pick up Indigenous people and abandon them in remote locations, often in freezing temperatures. Those individuals then are left to fend for themselves, with often tragic consequences.

Windspeaker’s story on Redlights is here:

Redlights will be shown at GEMFest on March 9 at 12:30 p.m. at the VIFF Centre.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.