November 4, 2016 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Québec Cinéma applaud the awarding of the 2016 Prix Albert-Tessier to Alanis Obomsawin, the first Indigenous woman filmmaker in Quebec, today recognized worldwide as one of Canada’s greatest documentarians. Obomsawin is the first Indigenous filmmaker to receive this honour, which will be presented to her on November 9 during a ceremony at the Parliament Building in Quebec City. The Prix Albert-Tessier—Quebec’s highest distinction in cinema, and one of the 14 Prix du Québec awarded each year—crowns Obomsawin’s career and recognizes her contribution to Quebec cinema.
Having worked with the NFB for over 40 years, Obomsawin has just completed her documentary feature We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The film documents the nine-year legal battle in which Indigenous Canadians took on the Canadian government to secure equal services for their children. We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice will screen at the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) on November 11, with the filmmaker in attendance. She is currently working on her 50th film.
“Alanis Obomsawin has devoted over 40 years of her life to creating a body of work that speaks of the collective memory and future of Indigenous people. The strength of her art, committed to giving a voice to First Nations, has brought about a better understanding of their realities and concerns vis-à-vis our society,” said Claude Joli-Coeur, Government Film Commissioner and NFB Chairperson.
“Quebec’s first Indigenous woman filmmaker, Alanis Obomsawin has enhanced our heritage and our national cinema in the purest documentary tradition, by looking at the world from different perspectives. This is the hallmark of the work created by Ms. Obomsawin, a filmmaker with courage, talent and tenacity,” said Ségolène Roederer, Director General of Québec Cinéma.
Alanis Obomsawin’s career
Alanis Obomsawin is a member of the Abenaki Nation and one of Canada’s foremost documentary filmmakers. Over the course of her career, she has directed some 50 films with the National Film Board, all chronicling the lives and struggles of First Nations people. Her latest project, We Can’t Make the Same Mistake Twice, follows the nine-year legal saga that saw Indigenous Canadians fighting the federal government so that their children would benefit from the same services offered to other children across the country.
Obomsawin originally launched her career in 1960 as a professional singer. She was working in New York when producers Joe Koenig and Bob Verrall invited her to the NFB in 1967 to act as a consultant for a film on Indigenous people. Obomsawin quickly fell in love with the camera and never looked back.
As an activist filmmaker, Obomsawin has always been driven by a desire to give the country’s first peoples a voice. This can be seen in all her films, from Christmas at Moose Factory (1971), which depicts life in a Cree village in James Bay through children’s drawings, to Hi-Ho Mistahey! (2013), which documents the campaign waged by First Nations to obtain equitable access to education for their children. Throughout her career, Obomsawin has consistently focused her lens on the importance of roots and intergenerational bonds in preserving First Nations culture.
Obomsawin is also no stranger to documenting emerging conflicts, as evidenced by her four films on the Oka Crisis: Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), winner of 18 international awards; My Name Is Kahentiiosta (1995); Spudwrench: Kahnawake Man (1997); and Rocks at Whiskey Trench (2000).
Her other documentary films include Incident at Restigouche (1984), a gripping account of the provincial police raids on a Quebec Mi’gmaq reserve; the moving Richard Cardinal: Cry from a Diary of a Métis Child (1986), about a teenager who commits suicide; and No Address (1988), which looks at homelessness in Montreal. Obomsawin’s more recent films include The People of the Kattawapiskak River (2012), which exposes the housing crisis facing the Cree of James Bay and was named Best Social/Political Documentary at the Canadian Screen Awards (2014), and Hi-Ho Mistahey!, which premiered at the TIFF in 2013 and was nominated for Best Feature-length Documentary at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards.
Especially close to Obomsawin’s heart are the Odanak people and their stories, as witnessed by her short film Sigwan (2005) and her follow-up, the multi-award-winning Waban-aki: People from Where the Sun Rises (2006). In Our Nationhood (2003), Obomsawin captures the determination of the Listuguj Mi’gmaq people to manage the natural resources of their traditional lands. With Is the Crown at War with Us? (2002), the accomplished filmmaker takes a close look at the conflict between the Mi’gmaq and their Acadian neighbours over fishing rights in Burnt Church, New Brunswick.
Obomsawin was inducted into the Playback Canadian Film & Television Hall of Fame in 2010 and honoured during the inaugural Birks Diamond Tribute to the Year’s Women in Film at TIFF in 2013. Later that year, Obomsawin also received the Humanitarian Award for Exceptional Contributions to Community & Public Service from the Canadian Screen Awards. In 2015, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Valdivia Film Festival in Chile and the Career Achievement Award from Artistes pour la Paix, and was named a Companion of the Ordre des arts et des lettres du Québec. In 2016, in addition to being awarded the Prix Albert-Tessier, she was named a Grande Officière of the Ordre national du Québec, the province’s highest distinction, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from Dalhousie University.
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About Québec Cinéma
Québec Cinéma’s mission is to promote Quebec’s cinema and its artists and professionals, and to contribute to the advancement of our film industry. The organization is focused on improving access, education and awareness, including an extensive educational outreach program. Québec Cinéma produces the industry’s three main showcases: the Gala, Tournée and Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. Through its initiatives, the organization reaches more than 1.5 million people annually in Quebec and around the world. Website: quebeccinema.ca
About the NFB
The NFB is Canada’s public producer of award-winning creative documentaries, auteur animation, and groundbreaking interactive stories, installations and participatory experiences. NFB producers are deeply embedded in communities across the country, working with talented artists and creators in production studios from St. John’s to Vancouver, on projects that stand out for their excellence in storytelling, their innovation, and their social resonance. NFB productions have won over 5,000 awards, including 15 Canadian Screen Awards, 17 Webbys, 12 Oscars and more than 90 Genies. To access many of these works, visit NFB.ca or download the NFB’s apps for mobile devices and connected TV.