It Starts with a Whisper, 28 min, 1993
It Starts With a Whisper was produced in the Six Nations/Brantford area, with an all-Indigenous cast, and features locations on the Grand River which runs through the Six Nations Reserve. The film blends traditional Iroquois imagery, music, and themes with motifs from contemporary, secular life. Eighteen-year-old Shanna Sabbath, who has grown up on the Reserve, must now decide what path to follow in life. The choice between traditional and contemporary values seems impossible. She feels all alone, yet she is watched over by ancestral spirits—three “matriarchal clowns” who sometimes appear in the form of her outrageous aunts: Emily, Molly, and Pauline. The aunts take Shanna on a mythic journey to Niagara Falls. – CFMDC
This film is co-directed with Anna Gronau.
Honey Moccasin, 47 min, 1998
A groundbreaking, all-Native production, written and directed by Canadian artist Shelley Niro, Honey Moccasin is set on the fictional Grand Pine Indian Reservation (aka “Reservation X”). It employs a hybrid pastiche of styles that depicts the rivalry between two bars, the Smoking Moccasin and the Inukshuk Cafe. It’s also the tale of closeted drag queen/powwow clothing thief Zachery John (Billy Merasty), and the travails of the crusading investigator/storyteller Honey Moccasin (Tantoo Cardinal).
An irreverent parody of familiar narrative strategies, Honey Moccasin forges an oppositional aesthetic via its reappropriation of the conventions of melodrama, performance art, cable access, and a “whodunit” style to investigate notions of authenticity, cultural identity, gender roles, and the articulation of contemporary native North American experiences. – CFMDC
The Shirt, 6 min, 2003
Niro uses the unexpected language of the kitsch souvenir t-shirt to make a powerful statement about the lasting effects of colonization on Indigenous people as well as their continued exploitation. – Grace McCormick
Childhood has a lot of great memories. We lived on the Six Nations Reserve where there were plenty of empty fields and lots of trees. At the time, I didn’t give too much thought to being an artist, but now I feel I rely on those memories constantly: the sun beating down on my fresh young face, the winter winds almost knocking me over on my walk home from school, the sound of wind through the trees and birds singing. These memories have placed themselves within my brain. I can always go there. – Shelley Niro
Read the interview with Shelley Niro at the National Gallery of Canada.
Watch an interview with Shelley Niro at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Shelley Niro: Boundless is currently on view at Art Windsor Essex through February 19, 2023. Exhibition curated by Czarina Mendoza.
All stills, photographs, and artwork for It Starts with a Whisper (1993) and Honey Mocassin (1998) courtesy of CFMDC © Shelley Niro. Stills and artwork for The Shirt (2003) courtesy of Vtape © Shelley Niro. Screening co-presented with the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre (CFMDC), Art Windsor Essex (AWE), and Vtape.