Gimli film fest puts focus on Indigenous horror

Like so many of us, Daina Warren admits she was a fan of horror films when she was in her teens, only to become a “scaredy-cat” later in life.

Warren online

But Warren, an artist, curator and the director of the downtown Winnipeg gallery Urban Shaman, was still intrigued when she was invited by the Gimli Film Festival to curate a series of horror films, both shorts and features, under the heading Indigenous Horror Focus.

“It was something in the back of my head last year when they invited me to guest curate,” Warren says in a phone interview. She says she has seen other similarly themed programs in international festivals, “like in the United States and Australia and New Zealand.

A young man becomes Gaagiixiid, the wildman, after a tragedy drives him into the woods of a remote island in Helen Haig-Brown’s film Edge of the Knife.

“But there haven’t been a lot of lineups like that in Canada,” she says. “I just thought this would be a really good opportunity to try to program something, and put some selections together that are really cool ideas.”

While a few horror films have been built around the Wendigo, perhaps the most recognizable figure of Indigenous horror lore, Warren says the larger Indigenous culture is rich with “incredible traditional and spiritual figures in Aboriginal culture that are bordering on scary or grisly.

“I’m interested in these kind of things that other nations have within their own backgrounds,” she says, pointing to the Gaagiixiid, the wildman, a figure from the Haida culture as seen in the film Edge of the Knife.

“I’ve known the director Helen Haig-Brown for a very long time and I’ve always wanted to work with her, so this was actually a really great opportunity,” Warren says. “It’s so well shot and so beautiful and it’s from her history, so it’s really incredible.”

The “Bearwalker” figure of Shirley Cheechoo’s film of the same name is likewise representative of a specific culture, she says.


Scott Benesiinaabandan’s Land Memories: Starlight Tours is one of two short films on the program at this year’s Gimli Film Festival.</p>

Scott Benesiinaabandan’s Land Memories: Starlight Tours is one of two short films on the program at this year’s Gimli Film Festival.

“It’s dealing in trauma, but it’s a different way of approaching it and talking about it,” Warren says. The same is true of one of the two short films on the program, Scott Benesiinaabandan’s Land Memories: Starlight Tours (2015) “that was a real-life situation of Indigenous men going missing.”

The last film in the program, Crossers (2019) by director Jennifer Varenchik, is about a couple of Indigenous friends in Los Angeles who discover that a reality TV ghost-hunter show filmed on their home reservation still has the power to play havoc with their urban lives. It’s the most fun film on the lineup, she says.

“It’s like an ‘80s gore movie,” she says. “It’s more tongue-in-cheek.”

Warren’s lineup of films is available for viewing at until July 25.

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

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