The Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) has formally apologized for its controversial 2015 screening of Dominic Gagnon’s Of the North.
The “experimental documentary” (pictured) featured a collection of clips chosen by Gagnon from out of close to 500 hours of content posted via video portals such as YouTube, which range from footage of Northern scenery and industrial machinery to scenes of drunkenness, vomiting and violence involving Inuit people. According to Gagnon, he used clips that were posted by the individuals themselves.
“It doesn’t need to be objective… but lets the viewer free, more like jazz, a free association of images,” the filmmaker told Canadian broadcaster APTN at the time. “It is almost an unrealistic piece.”
Though the Canadian festival released a statement at the time acknowledging that it had received “numerous complaints about the film and its inclusion in the festival,” RIDM stopped short of apologizing to First Nations and Inuit communities.
On Thursday (Nov. 17) after a year-long period of reflection, discussions and consultations, RIDM issued a statement stating that it “officially apologizes for its mistake, and for its initial response to the criticism it received.”
RIDM hosted a public discussion on Nov. 12 entitled “Indigenous Videographers Shoot Back” in which the panel – consisting of Mohawk, Ojibwa, Abenaki and Inuit filmmakers, journalists and academics – were united in their condemnation of the film and RIDM’s decision to include it in its festival lineup.
“The RIDM apologizes for having presented a film with a colonial perspective that perpetuates racist stereotypes,” RIDM said in a statement with the intention of continuing the process of reconciliation. “The festival plans to continue the process of listening, dialogue, and inclusion, and will take steps to improve its consideration of problematic points of view during the festival’s curation.
“We want to thank everyone who agreed to enter into a dialogue with the RIDM this past year, and everyone who is working with the festival in order for the RIDM to continue to make positive and necessary changes.”
Following last November’s controversy, Gagnon told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail that he would remove any footage from the film “that gives anyone problems. If I end up with 74 minutes of black leader silent film, then it will be a meditation on what happened.” In response, Montreal-based distribution house Videographe pulled the film from circulation to allow Gagnon to edit out offensive content.