Alanis Obomsawin


Alanis Obomsawin © Scott Stevens

Alanis Obomsawin (Abenaki) is a trailblazing artist, performer and activist celebrated internationally as one of Canada’s most distinguished documentary filmmakers. She was born near Lebanon, New Hampshire, though her family moved back to the Odanak reserve located near Sorel, Quebec when she was six months old. She began her career as a professional singer and storyteller before joining the National Film Board of Canada in 1967. Her films address the struggles of Indigenous peoples in Canada from their perspective, giving prominence to voices that have long been ignored or dismissed. She holds an Honorary Doctor of Law, Concordia University (1993); an Honorary Doctor of Letters, York University (1994); an Honorary Doctor of Literature, Carleton University (1994); an Honorary Doctor of Law, University of Western Ontario (2007); an Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of British Columbia (2010), among more than 20 honorary degrees, and many other academic and educational accomplishments. Her 50+ films have been exhibited widely at festivals, museums and galleries internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art, imagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival. She is the recipient of numerous awards, fellowships, and prizes including Officer and Companion of the Order of Canada; the Glenn Gould Prize; Prix Albert-Tessier; Canadian Screen Awards’ Humanitarian Prize, as well as multiple lifetime achievement and Governor General’s Awards. She was named an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2013), and a Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec (2016). She lives and works in Montreal, Quebec.

ONLINE SCREENING DATES: January 9 – January 30, 2023

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Christmas at Moose Factory, 13 min, 1971; My Name Is Kahentiiosta, 29 min, 1995; Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, 119 min, 1993 
This series is co-selected and presented with COUSIN collective and is generously funded by a Digital Now grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.

Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance, 119 min, 1993

In July 1990, a dispute over a proposed golf course to be built on Kanien’kéhaka (Mohawk) lands in Oka, Quebec, set the stage for a historic confrontation that would grab international headlines and sear itself into the Canadian consciousness. Director Alanis Obomsawin—at times with a small crew, at times alone—spent 78 days behind Kanien’kéhaka lines filming the armed standoff between protestors, the Quebec police and the Canadian army. Released in 1993, this landmark documentary has been seen around the world, winning over a dozen international awards and making history at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it became the first documentary ever to win the Best Canadian Feature award. Jesse Wente, Director of Canada’s Indigenous Screen Office, has called it a “watershed film in the history of First Peoples cinema.” – NFB

My Name Is Kahentiiosta, 29 min, 1995

This short documentary by Alanis Obomsawin tells the story of Kahentiiosta, a young Kahnawake Mohawk woman arrested after the Oka Crisis' 78-day armed standoff in 1990. She was detained 4 days longer than the other women. Her crime? The prosecutor representing the Quebec government did not accept her Indigenous name. – NFB

Christmas at Moose Factory, 13 min, 1971

This lyrical short documentary marked the directorial debut of legendary Abenaki director Alanis Obomsawin. Filmed at a residential school in northern Ontario, it is composed entirely of drawings by young Cree children and stories told by the children themselves. Listening has been at the core of Obomsawin’s practice since the very beginning. “Documentary film,” she said in a 2017 interview, “is the one place that our people can speak for themselves. I feel that the documentaries that I’ve been working on have been very valuable for the people, for our people to look at ourselves … and through that be able to make changes that really count for the future of our children to come. – NFB

I am not going to make a film to please an audience. I make a film to make changes and to have recognition for the people. – Alanis Obomsawin 

Throughout her life, well before taking up the camera, Alanis was an activist, taking a stand against injustices perpetrated against others. She witnessed a changing world that continues to evolve today; a world very different to the one she grew up in and to the one in which she began her film career. – Jason Ryle

Read a profile of Alanis Obomsawin at the NFB.

Watch 50+ films by Alanis Obomsawin at the NFB. 

All stills, photographs and artwork courtesy © National Film Board of Canada. Screening co-presented with NFB and Art Windsor Essex (AWE).