Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics
| 19 min 22 s
Stop motion animation
English with some Anishinaabemowin
Selections and Awards
Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics dives deeply into the innate contrast between the Seven Deadly Sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Pride and Envy) and the Seven Sacred Teachings (Love, Respect, Wisdom, Courage, Truth, Honesty and Humility), as embodied in the life of a precocious Métis baby. Brought to life by Terril Calder’s darkly beautiful stop-motion animation, her inner turmoil of abuse is laid bare with unflinching honesty. Convinced she’s soiled and destined for Hell, Baby Girl receives teachings that fill her with strength and pride, and affirm a path towards healing. Calder’s tour-de-force unearths a hauntingly familiar yet hopeful world that illuminates the bias of colonial systems.
In the middle of Turtle Island, a Métis Baby Girl is born. Her childhood wonder is disrupted when Jesus appears and tells her about the so-called sins of humanity. Convinced she is soiled and destined for Hell, the abuse and racism she endures leave her riddled with self-loathing and fear. To quell her trauma, Nokomis brings light to the Anishinaabe Teachings buried deep within Baby Girl. For every alleged Sin, Baby Girl is given a Teaching that fills her with strength and pride, and affirms a path towards healing.
Brought to unflinching life by Terril Calder’s darkly beautiful stop-motion animation, Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics dives deeply into the innate contrast between the Seven Deadly Sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Pride and Envy) and the Seven Sacred Teachings (Love, Respect, Wisdom, Courage, Truth, Honesty and Humility), as embodied in the life of a precocious little girl. Meneath (“island” in Anishinaabemowin) speaks to her journey but also leaves room for others to reflect on their own journey. It is a film that invites the viewer to contemplate our shared legacy. As a broader allegory, it offers an alternate lens that illuminates the bias of colonial systems.
Featuring the voice of Gail Maurice (Cardinal, Tricksters) and edited by award-winning artist Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Blood Quantum), Calder’s first-time collaboration with the National Film Board of Canada is a haunting tour-de-force about overcoming trauma and respecting one’s culture.
Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics charts a challenging journey for a precocious Métis baby girl as she contemplates her path to Hell.
Terril Calder, Métis
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with the new term “code-switching”. The zeitgeist brought a name to an issue that was consuming me. It was the idea of fitting in or making changes to seem like you do. I left my community (Fort Frances) at 18 years of age to pursue fine arts in Winnipeg. I’m now 52 and have realized that a great part of my “career path” was learning how to fit in. My ways were often interpreted as being unprofessional or uneducated. This constantly frustrated me, but part of me believed it. I learned how to fit in, or how to code-switch, to make people feel comfortable or maybe to be respected on their terms. I wanted to be accepted. This is a real barrier for many Indigenous people who can’t or won’t do the same to go to school or pursue their “career.” Pretending to be someone else is a lot to ask someone to do to fit in. I guess I ask myself now, and at my age… should we have to?
Willie J. Ermine, M.Ed., is an Assistant Professor with the First Nations University of Canada and is particularly interested in the “conceptual development of the ‘ethical space’–a theoretical space between cultures and worldviews.” I have mad respect for him and his traditional/academic research. He was scratching at the same issue as I was, but from an academic angle. I found his proposal to create Indigenous ethical spaces within institutions that could provide respite from the ignorance that many of us face so telling of the struggles we deal with in academic settings. Christian ethics are buried so deep in “Canada” that many see them as the base set of ethics that we build upon. They are the default set, and everything else is flawed or primitive. This is “missionary” thinking, to subconsciously treat us as heathens regardless of our faith. I got to wondering if all people got that. I don’t think they do, and these concepts are racist, wearing the guise of the Saviour; thinking I am a “good person” and I want that for others, but with that comes an unyielding definition of “good person.” I wondered if they knew there was an accommodation on our side? That their math about us didn’t add up because they didn’t have the tools to understand? My film, Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics, would try to take this on, in the form of a little girl. A little girl who has a secret voice in her head helping her navigate the world as Métis. I’m letting the viewer in on that voice to help gain a better understanding of a different value system. Her journey is a story of healing, of acceptance and reconciliation after trauma.
I grew up as a Calder from the Fort. Fort Frances, Ontario, is a small community where you don’t have to explain who you are. We are the Métis—we grew up in between the lines. Not completely white and not completely Native. The word Métis means mixed blood. That can be deceptive for some who believe that mixed bloodlines make you Métis. They do not. To be a recognized Nation, you need to have a distinct culture and language, and to be recognized as Métis you need to be connected to Louis Riel’s people of the Red River Nation, who had both. Our Nation/Tribe was Métis. My people are from the Red River Nation and fought in the Métis rebellion. They moved to the Fort after the civil war, and after their community was displaced. There was an adhesion to Treaty 3 to include my clan. So many settled on reserve at that time, and some did not. It was a bone of contention in my community, and it still is to this day. It’s a complicated issue. Because we settled there with the Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), who we partnered with and very often shared families with, we had a distinct language that was not Michif. It is a misconception that Michif was our only language. My clan spoke Bungee and Anishinaabemowin. Bungee was a mix of Gaelic and Cree; a language that is now lost. My title (Orkney Cree Metis) denotes my bloodline of Scottish and Cree mix. However, my Nation remains “Métis.”
The last name, Calder, is Scottish. It can be traced back to the beginning of the fur trade. When creating Meneath and the two voices, I really debated over who would embody the “Indigenous” voice. It is an easier read to make her Cree, because there is not a lot of knowledge about the diversity in my Nation, but in my gut I knew she had to be Anishinaabe. I feel a disconnect to both Cree and Scottish culture as my community evolved to be more Anishinaabe. We’ve been mixing our blood for centuries. However, that does not make us more Métis or more Anishinaabe. My mother is Norwegian, and she grew up outside of Fort Frances in the bush. My story is unusual. I was raised in my community and not in a suburb of Toronto, and my connection to my community fuels my curiosity and art. It has never been something I had to adopt or seek out. We were raised with heirlooms of culture, as the Métis culture is a mix of European and Ojibwe-Cree and, in my case, Anishinaabe. We have always lived off the land and our fish are a treasured staple. As time changes, our rights change, our acceptance changes. However, we remain Calders from the Fort.
Writer, Director and Animator
Photo : Julie Artacho
One of the foremost Métis media artists practising in Canada today, Terril Calder is a multi-disciplinary creator born in Fort Frances, Ontario, and currently living in Toronto. Calder’s Métis lineage is from the Red River Settlement and the Orkney Cree Métis. While her current practice is focused on stop-motion projects, which she writes, directs, crafts and animates, Calder also has an extensive background in performance art, visual art and media art.
Calder attended the University of Manitoba’s Fine Arts Program, graduating with a major in Drawing and a minor in Film. While in Winnipeg, she exhibited her multi-media and performance artwork with the influential Student Bolshevik group and was a member of Video Pool. After moving to Toronto following her studies, Calder became a founding member of the 7a*11d International Festival of Performance Art, where she curated visual and performance art exhibitions. Since the 1990s, Calder has lectured and taught art at organizations such as the National Ballet School of Canada, the Toronto District School Board, Art in the Park, the University of Manitoba, Indigenous Roots and imagineNATIVE, and in numerous Indigenous communities in Canada.
Calder’s films have been screened at major festivals and venues across Canada and internationally, including the Toronto International Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, Rotterdam, the Berlinale, the Tampere Film Festival and imagineNATIVE. In 2019, the Winnipeg Film Group presented the first retrospective of her work, and in 2020, she received her first film festival retrospective, at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. Calder’s notable film honours include Best Experimental Film from imagineNATIVE for The “Gift”, an Honourable Mention at the Sundance Film Festival, a Genie Award nomination for Best Animation and a Special Mention at the Berlinale (Generation 14+). Her films Choke (2011) and Snip (2016) were both selected for TIFF’s annual list of Canada’ Top Ten Shorts. Additional awards include best animation prizes at the Dreamspeakers Festival, the Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival, the Indianer Inuit film festival in Stuttgart, and the Intercontinental Biennale of Indigenous Art in Piura, Peru, as well as a Pixie Award for animation. In 2016, Calder won the prestigious K.M. Hunter Artist Award for her contributions to the media arts.
In addition to her most recent animated project, Meneath: The Hidden Island of Ethics, Calder is co-creating a stop-motion video game with Meagan Byrne, providing animation for Alanis Obomsawin’s Green Horse project, and creating an animated art installation with the Glenn Gould Foundation in celebration of Obomsawin’s lifetime achievement award.
Jelena Popović has been a producer at the NFB English Program Animation Studio since 2014, and her credits include several multi-award-winning films, notably Hedgehog’s Home by Eva Cvijanović, winner of over 30 prizes including the Prix du jeune public at Annecy, and Manivald by Chintis Lundgren, which garnered 20 awards at Animafest, OIAF, Aspen, Hiroshima, etc. Popović also directed the documentary The Knights of Orlando and edited Patrick Doyon’s Academy Award-nominated short Sunday.
Jason Ryle is a producer, curator, story editor and independent arts consultant based in Toronto. He is Anishinaabe from Lake St. Martin, Manitoba. From July 2010 to June 2020, Jason was the Executive Director of imagineNATIVE, an Indigenous-run organization mandated to support Indigenous filmmakers and media artists. In this capacity, Jason oversaw all operational and artistic activities of the annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, the world’s largest showcase of Indigenous screen content. He also oversaw the organization’s year-round initiatives, international partnerships and special projects, including On-Screen Protocols & Pathways, an influential framework for film and television production. Under his leadership, imagineNATIVE became the global hub for Indigenous film and a highly respected part of the Canadian industry.
Since 2006, Jason has been a script reader for the Harold Greenberg Fund (which provides financial support to Canadian narrative screenwriters), a role that includes story development and market assessment. He currently serves on several voluntary boards of directors, including as the President of the Toronto Arts Council, as Chair of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, and as a director for The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and REEL CANADA. Jason is also a member of the Indigenous Advisory Committee for the National Film Board of Canada.
From 2013 until 2020, he was an Advisor for Indigenous films at the Berlinale. He also oversaw the Indigenous Cinema stand at the European Film Market from 2015–2020, which promoted features and shorts made by Indigenous filmmakers to international sales agents, distributors and festivals. Jason has produced two award-winning short animations and is currently in development as a producer on several projects by Indigenous directors.
In February 2021, Jason received the Clyde Gilmour Award from the Toronto Film Critics Association. The award is bestowed to Canadians whose work has in some way enriched the understanding and appreciation of film in their native country.
Executive Producer (NFB)
Photo : David Fine
Michael Fukushima was the executive producer of the NFB’s world-renowned English Program Animation Studio from 2013 to 2021. After briefly freelancing following college, Fukushima joined the NFB in 1990 as a filmmaker before becoming a studio producer. During his distinguished tenure at the NFB he produced or executive-produced more than 200 films, including projects with Oscar winners Alison Snowden, David Fine and Torill Kove. In 2014 Fukushima became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His interests include a great passion for the outdoors, as both an avid skier and all-season cyclist.
Photo : Emily Cooper
Rob McLaughlin is the Executive Producer and Head of the National Film Board of Canada’s Digital Studio in Vancouver where he leads in the development of digital programming strategy, interactive and immersive documentary work. Rob has produced many of the NFB’s pioneering experimental projects since establishing the studio in 2008 including Bear 71, Welcome to Pine Point and Biidaaban: First Light VR.
Prior to the NFB, Rob was a senior executive at Canada’s largest newspaper chain, responsible for leading staff through a time of radical transformation in the newspaper industry. Rob also worked for 10 years as a producer and executive at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation developing online audio-visual projects designed to attract new audiences for public broadcasting.
Written and Directed by
Design, Animation and Compositing
Puppets, Sets, Props, Costumes
Traditional Costume – Baby Girl
© 2021 National Film Board of Canada (SOCAN)
Kate Bevan-Baker, violin
François Jalbert, guitar
Sheila Hannigan, cello
Geoffrey Mitchell (NFB)
Jean Paul Vialard
Animation Technical Specialist
Rosalina Di Sario
Senior Production Coordinator
Anishinaabe Syllabic Chapter Titles
Willie J. Ermine, M.Ed.
Brandon Michael Mohammed
© 2021 National Film Board of Canada
About the NFB
The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) is a leader in exploring animation as an artform, a storytelling medium and innovative content for emerging platforms. It produces trailblazing animated works both in its Montreal studios and across the country, and it works with many of the world’s leading creators on international co-productions. NFB productions have won more than 7,000 awards, including seven Oscars for NFB animation and seven grand prizes at the Annecy festival. To access this unique content, visit NFB.ca.