Regent Park Film Festival Review: 'Québékoisie'

(Canada, 82 min.)
Written and directed by Mélanie Harrier, Olivier Higgins
Any Canadian documentary that confronts the Oka crisis and even mentions the word “Kanehsatake” inevitably invites comparison to Alanis Obomsawin’s landmark doc Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. Kanehsatake, arguably the definitive film on the liminal space indigenous communities are forced to occupy within Canadian culture, contains some of the most provocative and necessarily confrontational arguments within Canadian documentary. It’s a tough act for any Canadian film to follow while tackling the subject, especially when the subject itself invokes its predecessor’s name. Québékoisie might not have the same cocktail of passion and rage as Obomsawin’s doc does, but the memory of Kanehsatake nevertheless permits Québékoisie resonance since it’s baffling to think that the same conversation needs to be had over two decades since the Oka Crisis and Obomsawin’s film.

Filmmakers Mélanie Harrier and Olivier Higgins trace the roots of prejudice against indigenous persons in Canada by examining the personal histories of several indigenous persons and some old-stock Quebeckers. Included among the participants is the sister of a police officer who was gunned down in the Oka Crisis and her own testimony offers a remarkably humane perspective on the prejudices that can divide a culture. She also shows how said preconceptions can be overcome through her story of confronting her own ignorance as she revisits the scene of her brother’s death. It’s a tranquil, wooded place, yet she notes that it’s eerily been tainted by bloodshed and hate.

Québékoisie charts the semantic and socio-historic roots of this prejudice, but the filmmakers also give ample time to members of the surrounding indigenous communities, mostly Mohawk and Innu, as they trace their own family histories and reveal the mixed lineage of much of Canada’s people. This personal and humane film entails provocative dialogues of exclusion that only seem to be growing in the age of the Harper government, but Québékoisie equally notes the resistance to assimilation and cultural erosion in the wake of the Idle No More movement as indigenous communities rise up, adapt, and thrive. Harrier and Higgins bookend the film with the pulse of “Electric Pow Wow Drum” from A Tribe Called Red, and Québékoisie couldn’t find a better anthem for the endurance of a spirit in the ever-changing Canadian landscape.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Québékoisie screens in Toronto at the Regent Park Film Festival on Friday, Nov. 21 at 6:30 pm.
Tickets are free and may be reserved here.