Documentary Films at the Library


Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

Over the last two years, McGill Library has acquired several new documentaries (new to the library that is) on a range of subjects, from globalization to refugee stories to Indigenous tattoo art. All of the films (and one TV series) on this list were requested by faculty and teaching staff from sociology, anthropology, and social work. Some lucky students watched these films as part of their courses, but they deserve a chance to be viewed by a wider audience.

Each time I clicked play on one of these films, to test the sound and quality, I found myself wishing I could watch it all the way through to the end. Documentary films let people tell raw and powerful stories – personal and political stories – that can both educate and entertain. Consider taking some time before the busy school year starts to watch one (or more!) of these films, or any of the many films we have access to through McGill Library.

  • La moindre des choses (Every Little Thing) (1997)

Director: Nicolas Philibert

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/897772892 (Microsoft Stream)

Every summer the patients and staff of the La Borde Psychiatric Clinic stage a theatrical performance. Focusing on the 1995 production of Operetta, this fascinating film reveals the porous boundary between sanity and madness. Philibert’s unobtrusive observations force us to re-examine conventional assumptions about what is normal and what is not. ~ from the catalogue record

  • Orientations (1985)

Director: Richard Fung

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1322068824 (Microsoft Stream)

More than a dozen men and women of different Asian backgrounds speak frankly about their lives as members of a minority within a minority. They speak about coming out, homophobia, racism, cultural identity and the ways that being gay and Asian have shaped who they are. ~ from the distributor’s website www.twn.org  

  • Re:Orientations (2016) 

Director: Richard Fung

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1055287992 (Microsoft Stream)

A fascinating look into the lives and thoughts of seven Queer Canadians of South, East, and Southeast Asian backgrounds as they look back on ORIENTATIONS, a 1984 documentary in which they featured. How have they changed? And how has the world around them evolved and changed? ~ from the distributor’s website www.twn.org

  • Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020)

Director: Zhangke Jia

www.kanopy.com/en/mcgill/video/11797690 (Kanopy)

Prominent Chinese writers recount their own lives and literary careers, which allows the film to weave a 70-year spiritual history of the Chinese people. ~ from the Kanopy website

  • Julia Scotti: Funny That Way (2020)

Director: Susan Sandler

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1301273345 (Microsoft Stream)

With breathtaking emotional honesty, this tender, funny, and powerful portrait of transgender comedian Julia Scotti explores the unrelenting courage and humor it takes to be Julia. ~ from IMDB

  • Unsettled: Seeking Refuge in America (2019)

Director: Tom Shepard

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1194594429 (Docuseek)

Follows the stories of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East as they flee persecution in their countries of origin to seek better and safer lives in the U.S. ~ from IMDB

  • Many Thousands Gone (2015) (Short)

Director: Ephraim Asili

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1249956818 (Microsoft Stream)

Filmed on location in Salvador, Brazil (the last city in the Western Hemisphere to outlaw slavery) and Harlem, NY (an international stronghold of the African Diaspora), Many Thousands Gone draws parallels between a summer afternoon on the streets of the two cities. ~ from the catalogue record

  • A Place to Breathe (2020)

Director: Michelle Steinberg

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1276814997 (Docuseek)

Explores the universality of trauma and resilience through the eyes of immigrant and refugee health care providers and patients. ~ from IMDB

  • Tunniit: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos (2011)

Director: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1103250028 (Microsoft Stream)

The filmmaker speaks with elders in various communities in Nunavut, as well as members of her own family, about traditional women’s tattooing, a practice taboo for more than a century as a result of contact with Europeans and Christianity. ~ from the catalogue record 

  • Skindigenous (2018 – 2021) (TV Series)

Season 1 https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1103672518 (DVD)

Season 2 https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1237269500 (DVD)

A 13-part documentary series exploring Indigenous tattooing traditions around the world. Each episode dives into a unique Indigenous culture to discover the tools and techniques, the symbols and traditions that shape their tattooing art. ~ from the catalogue record

  • Flat Rocks (2017) (Short)

Director: Courtney Montour

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1246683697 (Microsoft Stream)

Weaves together breathtaking present-day footage of Kahnawake with archival photos dating back over 80 years revealing the community’s way of life threatened by the Seaway. A poetic narration in the Kanien’kéha (Mohawk) language voices the community’s connection to the water. ~ from the catalogue record

  • The Force (2017)

Director: Peter Nicks

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1012489925 (DVD)

Beginning in 2014, this film chronicles two years with the Oakland Police Department, which, in 2003, was put under federal oversight for misconduct and civil rights abuses. Relations between the department and the community are explored in the wake of nationally publicized police shootings and the advent of the Black Lives Matter Movement. ~ from the catalogue record

  • Once the Ice Melts (2015) (Short)

Director: Egill Bjarnason

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1137157735 (Microsoft Stream)

A glimpse into what happens when globalization meets an isolated Indigenous population now surrounded by melting glaciers. This intimate documentary follows a group of young adults living in Ittoqqortoormiit, Greenland and chronicles their struggles with a new world that includes longer summers, and newly acquired access to modern amenities. ~ from the catalogue record

  • Indian Time (2018)

Director: Carl Morasse

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/1155880809 (Microsoft Stream)

Captured over a period of five years within 18 communities, INDIAN TIME is a personal and current portrayal of the 11 Aboriginal nations of Qǔbec, where some forty people take turns speaking, allowing for exceptional encounters and immersing the viewer – eyes and heart – in this “Indian Time”. ~ from the catalogue record

  • Mardi Gras: Made in China (2005)

Director: David Redmon

www.kanopy.com/en/mcgill/video/268087 (Kanopy)

This examination of cultural and economic globalization follows the life-cycle of Mardi Gras beads from a small factory in Fuzhou, China, to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and to art galleries in New York City. ~ from IMDB

  • H2Oil (2009)

Director: Shannon Walsh

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/978242392 (DVD)

Moving between a local microcosm and the global oil crisis, H2Oil weaves together a collection of compelling stories of people who are at the front lines of the biggest industrial project in human history: Canada’s tar sands. ~ from IMDB

  • Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light) (2010) 

Director: Patricio Guzmán

https://mcgill.on.worldcat.org/oclc/953095281 (Docuseek)

A documentary about two different searches conducted in the Chilean Atacama Desert: one by astronomers looking for answers about the history of the cosmos, and one by women looking for the remains of loved ones killed by Pinochet’s regime. ~ from IMDB

Indigenous Stories

By Claire Grenier

This post is about the current display in the Redpath Library Exhibition Case, curated by IMPRESS intern Claire Grenier. The Indigenous Stories Exhibition will be on display in the library until the end of September.

The only accurate way to title this display was Indigenous Stories. For Indigenous cultures oral traditions and storytelling are integral to our preservation. In this display I have tried to pull a variety of these stories from varied sources and disciplines. The selections include theory, non-fiction, fiction, poetry, art, plays, graphic novels, vintage dictionaries, decolonial guides… all of which demonstrate the ongoing scope of Indigenous talent. I also wanted to offer up explanations on the Indigenous land on which McGill occupies and information on the three distinct Indigenous groups in what we call Canada. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis all have unique histories and practices which contribute to the diverse makeup of Indigenous people from coast to coast to coast. Short explanations of the land and the Indigenous groups within Canada are dispersed through the display and also available here:

McGill University is on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabeg nations. We acknowledge and thank the diverse Indigenous peoples whose presence marks this territory on which peoples of the world now gather.”

McGill must pursue an unedited truth about its historical and contemporary relationship with First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples to meaningfully inform its goal of reconciliation.

As Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report emphasized, reconciliation must begin with the truth. This must include proper and ongoing consultation with Indigenous peoples, and the recognition of the Indigenous traditional territory upon which McGill is situated.

Who are the First Nations?

First Nations have existed on the land we now call Canada since time immemorial. There are over 600 nations and 50 languages across Turtle Island, each with unique histories, traditions, and practices.

Who are the Inuit?

Inuit have lived and thrived across Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland encompassing 36 per cent of Canada’s landmass and 50 per cent of its coastline. The four regions include Nunatsiavut, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Inuvialuit.

Who are the Métis?

The Métis are a post-contact group descended from European men and Indigenous women along the routes of the fur trade who created a distinct culture and language. The Métis settlements span across the prairies and parts of Ontario and British Columbia. The Métis have fought for centuries for their rights and recognition.

Indigenous Stories Book Display

Now I would like to discuss some of the featured works in the display.

The first feature is a book called Àbadakone, which is based on a celebrated exhibit in The National Gallery of Canada which opened in the Fall of 2019. This book features over 70 artists’ work from the exhibit, including those of the McGill Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative (ISCEI) 2021 and 2022 artists-in-residence Caroline Monnet and Danya Danger. The other art book on display is Desire change : contemporary feminist art in Canada, which is open to a photograph of Anishinaabekwe artist Rebecca Belmore’s 1991 piece Ayum-ee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother.

The next spotlight belongs to the 2021 ISCEI writer in residence, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. There are several works by Simpson in the display, the most prominent one being Noopiming: the cure for white ladies. The cover features anther work of Belmore’s – an installation piece from 2008 called Fringe. “Noopiming” is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush.” Simpson chose this title as a direct response to Canadian settler author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing it in the bush. As a novel, Noopiming takes place in the same time as Moodie’s memoir providing a cure for “Moodie’s racist treatment of Mississauga Nishnaabeg in her writing” (book listing). Simpson is one of the most clever Indigenous contemporary writers working today. Another of her books included in the display is A short history of the blockade: Giant beavers, diplomacy, and regeneration in Nishnaabewin. Portions of this book made up Simpson’s 2020 Kreisler lecture at the University of Alberta. The lecture, The Brillianchttps://youtu.be/8Jbp7uzj_YMe of the Beaver: Learning from an Anishnaabe World, has been integral to my own practice as an Indigenous academic and knowledge seeker in addition to influencing the structure of this display. In her lecture, Simpson explains that:

My people are constant storytellers throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Stories are the fabric of daily life. My ancestors woke up each morning and created an Anishnaabe world. They animated their political system of governance and diplomacy. They built their collective philosophical and ethical understandings. They made processes for solving conflicts and reestablishing balance. And they built their economy with the consent of plant and animal nations.  They built, maintained and nurtured systems for sharing knowledge and taking care of each other. They worked collectively to produce, reproduce, replicate, amplify and share Indigenous life because if they did not, Anishinaabe worlds wouldn’t exist.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “The Brilliance of the Beaver: Learning from an Anishnaabe World”, CLC Kreisel Lecture (University of Alberta), March 12, 2020, link.

The next major grouping of works in the display fall under the category of knowledge keeping and evaluation. These books range from environmental theory to classic surveys of methodology. Given the spotlight here is Margaret Kovach’s revolutionary work Indigenous Methodologies. This book was one of the first of its kind in the field. In it, Kovach expresses the necessity of storytelling to the practice of Indigenous research. “By listening intently to one another, story as method elevates the research from an extractive exercise serving the fragmentation of knowledge to a holistic endeavour that situates research firmly within the nest of the relationship” (98).

Many of the environmental texts selected for the display follow this principle too. Climate change: linking traditional and scientific knowledge (2006, edited by Roderick R Riewe and Jill E Oakes), Ancient pathways, ancestral knowledge: ethnobotany and ecological wisdom of Indigenous peoples of northwestern North America (2014, edited by Nancy J Turner), and When the caribou do not come: Indigenous knowledge and adaptive management in the western Arctic (2018, edited by Brenda Parlee and Ken J Caine) all use Indigenous stories and practice to open up a dialogue with climate and environmental scientists to see how their history and experiences can help combat the ongoing climate crisis.

The most personal work I chose for the display is Chester Brown’s 2003 “comic-strip biography” Louis Riel. The subject of Brown’s book, Louis Riel, was the leader of the Métis’ Red River Resistance. For Métis like me, Riel is not just a hero, he is the reason that we are recognized as a distinct group. In the eyes of many Canadian settlers, he is a “traitor” who deserved his sentence of hanging for treason. Chester Brown shows these settlers the passion, drive, and charisma of Riel and the sacrifices and battles he fought for his people. I read this book for the first time when I was 12 after my 7th grade teacher insisted that Riel had been a traitor not a martyr. It was one of the first times I remember feeling connected to my history outside of the semi-annual Harvest Dinners hosted by my local Métis organization. Riel made it possible for the Métis to not only exist, but to be constitutionally recognized as we are today. Riel believed that “we must cherish our inheritance. We must preserve our nationality for the youth of our future. The story should be written down to pass on.”

Also featured in the display is another graphic novel: Moonshot which is a collection of Indigenous comics edited by Elizabeth LaPensee and Michael A Sheyahshe and published in 2020.  This particular volume focuses on how Indigenous futurism interacts with traditional knowledge and culture. Some equally fun picks are the two works which highlight two-spirit and indigiqueer identity. Two-spirit acts: queer Indigenous performances, which was edited by Jean Elizabeth O’Hara and features one-act plays by Waawaate Fobister, Muriel Miguel, and Kent Monkman, provides space in the genre of theatre to openly and unapologetically explore what it means to be queer and Indigenous. Similarly, Joshua Whitehead’s 2017 work of poems, Full-metal Indigiqueerfocuses on a hybridized Indigiqueer trickster character named Zoa who brings together the organic (the protozoan) and the technologic (the binaric) to re-beautify and re-member queer Indigeneity.”  

There are also selections in the display which are specific to Inuit culture, history, and future. Amun is a collection of Inuit poetry in French and features work from ISCEI’s 2022 writer in residence Maya Cousineau-Mollen. There is also a special photo book used in the display which depicts life in the north. Arraaguit 25 nalliutivut taimanngat Jaims Pai ammalu Kupait tarranga angirkatigiigutaulilaursimatillugit is a celebration by the Makivik corporation for the 25th anniversary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

Lastly, I would like to turn to one of my favourite things I encountered while putting this display together. The piece in this display which I find the most interesting is not by an Indigenous author, but by a 19th century French missionary. It’s a French/Cree dictionary from 1874. The author of the dictionary is Albert Lacombe, one of the best-known missionaries in Canada’s history. Lacombe had a special interest in evangelizing the Cree and Blackfoot populations in Canada’s west. To do this, he needed to understand the language. For me, the reason this dictionary is so interesting is because it is such a clear tool of colonialism, yet it is also casual. While it’s just a dictionary, the reason why Lacombe created a dictionary of French to Cree was to more effectively convert and colonize Indigenous peoples. It’s a symbol of the power of language, of how for so long outsiders learning Indigenous dialects did so with malicious intent and with the goal of having not just the language, but the ways of life, erased and replaced with Western ideals.

This dictionary holds so much tragedy and history, and it was just sitting in the stacks of McLennan! In my last two months at the library, the discovery of this dictionary helped me explore an integral line of inquiry for my work as a Métis academic: who decides which knowledge and stories are worth keeping record of?

Through this display I’ve tried to curate a selection of many different Indigenous stories currently held by the library. By putting all these different works from different fields on an equal footing I hope I have shown you the diversity of Indigenous knowledge and convinced you of the importance of preserving all these stories, including the ones of trauma, and especially the ones about joy.

Maarsi

All of the books in Claire’s Indigenous Stories book display can be found on this booklist.

Fierté Québec

Summer in Québec is inarguably the best time of the year, and the summer of 2022 is particularly special as we come together for the first time in 3 years to celebrate on the streets, loud and proud all across the province. 

Rainbow flags and coloured balloons are shown at the site where the Montreal Pride parade was supposed to start from in Montreal, Sunday, August 7, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes 

For the month of August and early September, Québec has a jam packed line-up of activities starting with Fierté Montreal (1-7 August), Fière la fête (23-27 August) in the Ville de Sherbrooke and la Fête arc-en-ciel (1-11 Sept.) in the Ville de Québec. As the names suggest, these festivals are a time of celebration for the gender and sexual diversity communities of these three cities. Fierté Montréal, considered the largest Pride gathering in the Francophone World, uses the seven days of cultural and community activities as “an opportunity to generate public awareness of the issues to be addressed in eliminating homophobia, locally and internationally.”.

Pride Parade 2018 in Montreal on Sunday, August 19, 2018.

This year, we here at the Humanities and Social Studies Library (HSSL) are joining the numerous festivities with a little treat of our own. On display at the Redpath Complex for the entire month of August is the Fierte Bibliothèque | Library Pride Book Display, a collection containing numerous popular publications and a range of digital book and film titles just a scan away. 

For those looking to take a deeper dive into the topic, we recommend Gale’s Archives of Sexuality and Gender as a starting point. It boasts itself as the “largest digital collection of historical primary source publications relating to the history and study of sex, sexuality, and gender research…” and is sure to be a great source!

For more information or related queries email us at hssl.library@mcgill.ca.