I cried twice at TIFF on Sunday.
The first time was in the last moment of Kelly Reichardt's very, very good Certain Woman, which is dedicated to Lucy – Reichardt's own dog, and the co-star of her 2008 film Wendy and Lucy.
I recently handed my own beautiful dog, Lilly, off to my very capable parents, so I could handle my TIFF-related responsibilities while ensuring my canine best buddy is being looked after in the manner she deserves. I tied her little Iron Maiden-branded bandana around her neck, and kissed her on her wide, wet nose, and waved goodbye, as her grandparents' Buick drove up the street. So I understand something of the love Reichardt is driving at when she dedicates a film to her own, presumably recently deceased, dog. But I wonder if I know enough about love.
I wonder if I'll ever love something enough to handle seeing it torn away from me, and from its family; to be swept away and beaten and indoctrinated in a culture that's not its own; to learn to hate itself, and still be able to hunker down, find some strength inside of me, and get on with my life, as if it's no big deal.
Well, okay, I don't really wonder that. Because I know that I won't. I know that I won't be able to handle that because the second time I cried at TIFF today was during Alanis Obomsawin's epic documentary We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice, a film that chronicles the Canadian government's systematic, discriminatory abuse of First Nations children.
The film's primary subject is Cindy Blackstock, a woman whose compassion and spirit as a social worker and advocate of First Nations' rights are only faintly comprehensible to me: a fat, white, Canadian man of Scotch-English-Irish derivation who enjoys the full privileges of citizenship and moans about paying taxes. Over the course of nearly three hours Obomsawin chronicles Blackstock's tireless mission to advocate for the rights of First Nations children, arguing that the lack of funding allocated to these communities essentially functions as a modern reproduction of the historically abusive and shameful residential school system, which ex-PM Stephen Harper, despite his many, many faults, publicly apologized for before leaving office.
We Can't Make the Same Mistake Twice is revelatory not only because of its content, but because of its deceptively radical form. It's compiled largely of legal tribunals, and to the bored viewer may play like two-plus hours of CPAC coverage. But that cameras were allowed into these hearings, in which our nation's abominable shame is laid wrenchingly bare, is itself a revelation.
Obomsawin depicts Canadian politics in the whole of their procedural banality, with the guiding notion being that it was precisely this ho-hum plainness that enabled the historical oppression of First Nations peoples, whose language we stole to name our stupid country in the first place.
It made me ashamed to be Canadian. It also made me ashamed to be part of a cohort of 'film writers' who were largely absent from the wildly underpopulated press and industry screening. Where were you guys? Discussing Walter Hill's new terrible movie and constructing new frameworks of irony over a free Grolsch? Do you posses literally no sense of national or civil obligation? Do you even vote?
About half of the 20 people who bothered to show up walked out. Maybe they thought it seemed boring or didactic. But sometimes the truth is such.