Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival showcases Indigenous talents

Local festival addresses Indigenous issues through filmmaking

The 15th edition of the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF) is set to take place at Towne Cinema 8 from Nov. 24 to 27. It will present a wide collection of films by both local and international filmmakers, all centering on the theme of reconciliation.

“Reconciliation means Aboriginal people taking their rightful place in Canadian public life, hopefully at the center, but no longer at the margins,” said Coleen Rajotte, the festival’s director.

“It means no more discrimination in the workplace in schools and in our communities – it means building safer more positive atmospheres for our children to grow up in and many of our films and filmmakers have spoken to these themes.”

Duane Howard, a First Nations actor who is best known for his role as Arikara chief Elk Dog in The Revenant, will be the keynote speaker on the opening night. With years of experience in Hollywood, Howard will discuss the need for greater Indigenous representation in the media.

WAFF will showcase voices often left unheard by our city’s mainstream media and celebrate Indigenous talents by creating a platform for self-expression. It will highlight the need for Indigenous people to be better showcased and represented on television and in theatres.

“We’re still dealing with the effects of the residential schools our parents and grandparents went through, but our festival offers a venue for a lot of really great stories of resilience and achievements – a lot of great things happening that young Aboriginal people are not offered anywhere else,” said Rajotte.

The festival will be screening a selection of films, amongst others, that specifically address the subject of missing and murdered Indigenous women. This includes Nathaniel Arcand’s Sister, Daughter, Tasha Hubbard’s 7 Minutes, and This River by Katherena Vermette, an award-winning Winnipeg Métis author, whose film won the grand jury prize at this year’s Montreal First People’s Festival.

This year’s edition of the festival will also feature more films by members of international Indigenous communities, like My Bicycle from Bangladesh, and The Head Hunter from India. A successful New Zealand comedy film, Three Wise Cousins, will kick off the festival on Thursday, Nov. 24. This film, which was created with a budget of $80,000, has netted over two million dollars at the worldwide box office.

Every year, WAFF collaborates with the Adam Beach Film Institute (ABFI). The ABFI works with Indigenous youths and filmmaking enthusiasts by traveling to remote communities with their mobile studios, sometimes referred to as youth centers on wheels.

Rajotte believes filmmaking is essential, as it allows young Indigenous people to improve their self-esteem and sense of culture and identity, and develop relationships with non-Indigenous communities.

“Not only does media training help to break the sense of isolation often experienced by young people in remote communities, but it also provides the tools they need to express themselves. In this way, film and music can act as powerful tools for social transformation in communities with high rates of suicide, violence, and substance abuse,” said Rajotte.

The Adam Beach Film Institute’s artistic director, Jim Compton, is excited by the submissions from young Indigenous film makers in this year’s edition of the festival. This highlights the effectiveness of the festival’s efforts to reach out to youths over the years.

“This year we’re seeing more and more submissions from younger Canadian Aboriginal filmmakers and that shows there is a growing industry out there. WAFF has helped develop that over the years which is something we are very proud of,” said Compton.

While the WAFF’s goal is to showcase Indigenous issues, non-Indigenous people are encouraged to attend. The stories told will explore universal themes, and such stories bring communities together, and is a key component of reconciliation.

“Our goal with this festival is to present films that offer nuanced portrayals of dynamic human beings,” said Rajotte.


The Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival will take place Nov. 24-27 at Towne Cinema 8. For more information, visit