Film by Saskatoon Cree-Ojibway youth to be screened at Toronto Hot Docs film festival
- Chelsea Laskowski | April 18, 2018
When the first frames of Kiyari McNab’s short documentary come on, she shies away from the images on the screen.
After a few moments, McNab stands up and walks over to a window on the other side of Andrea Cessna’s home office, looking outside as Cessna and I watch the seven-minute video featuring McNab showing photos of her family and friends. We listen to her archived voice tell the complicated history behind her connection to the people in those photos while McNab, in real time, fidgets uncomfortably.
McNab is an 18-year-old Cree-Ojibway woman in her final year of high school in Saskatoon who works part time on projects with Cessna’s company, PPRPLN Productions. On screen we witness McNab’s vulnerability, but also her confidence as Cessna tells me McNab is the videographer behind all the background footage in their documentary Abnormal Freedom. It’s McNab’s first-ever film and is an official selection at the upcoming Hot Docs film festival in Toronto.
When the credits roll, noting McNab, Cessna, and Muskwa Lerat for their work, McNab is ready to share the story behind the name of her highly personal documentary.
“Living an abnormal life was normal for Indigenous youth ... and I like to be free and stuff and not be controlled or anything like that, be like bossed around, so I was like, ‘Abnormal Freedom,’” McNab said.
The film’s style taps into oral tradition of storytelling, which is part of why Cessna said it is so special.
“Back in the day, Natives were to use pictures for their stories instead of writing. So that’s why I wanted to use this,” McNab said, pointing to the book of photos that she’s held onto since she was nine years old.
“She was speaking these stories to me,” Cessna said.
The film came about while Cessna worked with McNab through a digital storytelling program offered out of Core Neighbourhood Youth Co-op (CNYC) in Saskatoon. McNab’s eye for photography, for framing shots, and for telling stories through visuals and — later on — sound, endeared the two to each other right away.
When Abnormal Freedom was complete, Cessna said she knew the film had legs to go beyond the original Saskatchewan Craft Council screening in Saskatoon. It will be screened a further three times at Hot Docs in Toronto at the end of April.
McNab said she is nervous, scared that she will hear commentary from “snobby artists” at the largest documentary film festival in North America. However, her determination to make a name for herself as a Canadian artist shines through as she talks about how her photography has already been featured in exhibits across Saskatoon.
“I didn’t expect myself to be a filmmaker and here I am now, so I really want more youth to get more into it,” she said.
McNab said Cessna has helped make her childhood dreams of being a photographer come true.