The journey to bring Night Raiders to the big screen may have been long, but it is paying off.
The film hit Canadian theatres in October. It is Cree/ Metis filmmaker, Danis Goulet’s feature-length, directorial debut but she has been working on the screenplay since 2013.
Night Raiders is set in the year 2043 and imagines a world where children are property of the state. The story focuses on a Cree mother and daughter on the run so the child is not taken away to the “Academy.”
When Goulet, who is from La Ronge, Sask., started developing the movie, she felt there was not enough of a national conversation happening around the impact of colonial policies and the residential school system.
“I just felt as though, obviously the education system in Canada had failed at revealing the truth that happened at residential school and that obviously, this had a profound impact on all aspects of Indigenous life,” says Goulet on the latest episode of Face to Face.
“So, it was important to tell a story about this, so, that people might understand what it is to be in a system where your children are taken away from you, by law, as we know.”
A lot was going on during the development of the film and its release, including the Idle No More movement, the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, and the discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools in Canada.
Goulet says her trip to Standing Rock during the pipeline protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, was another inspiration for the film.
The television and film industry has also seen major changes in recent years with big, Indigenous-led projects debuting in Canada and the United States. Projects like Blood Quantum, Trickster, Rutherford Falls, and Reservation Dogs have seen bigger budgets and received bigger pushes than previously released projects.
Despite the push toward change, Goulet says Indigenous content creators still face challenges.
“There’s also barriers that we face like misconceptions about the stories that we’re trying to tell. In a year that we went to a broadcaster for financing, they gave us notes back that they didn’t feel like the residential school allegory was relevant because we as a country had moved on from that,” says Goulet.
“And to me, the fact that a gatekeeper was giving a note like that in the very month that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was releasing their findings was a testimony to what Indigenous filmmakers face when they go to get their projects financed that might be different from what a regular project might be up against.”
Night Raiders is now setting records. The film has the largest budget of any Indigenous-led film in Canadian history, a record previously held by Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum.
The film also debuted in 80 theatres, becoming the largest theatrical release of any Indigenous-led film in Canadian history. Night Raiders is a Canada /New Zealand co-production, another Indigenous first for the Canadian film industry.
Goulet believes all of these firsts are proving that anything is possible and that Indigenous-led projects are heading in a direction we’ve never been before.
The reaction from the audiences of these projects has also been key to the success.
“In order for Indigenous stories to be embraced, people do have to come and watch them. So, the first thing I would say is support Indigenous storytelling,” says Goulet. “We’ve wanted this for so long.
“When I first got involved in ImagiNative, what was so life-changing about that for me was seeing what it meant after 100 years of cinema misrepresentation, where Hollywood has been out there perpetuating all kinds of harmful depictions of us, on-screen for so long, the power of us being at the helm of our own stories is incredible.”
Goulet is already at work on her next film. She is directing a new Netflix thriller called Ivy that she says is about a smart house that turns on the owner. That film is expected to be released in 2022.