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As the National Film Board of Canada works to strengthen its relationship with Indigenous peoples, it has, more recently, included in its portfolio many well-recognized Indigenous documentaries, such as Reel Injun.

The National Film Board (NFB) of Canada will immediately start to allocate 15 per cent of its production budgets to projects by Indigenous filmmakers in a plan that the federal organization will unveil Tuesday.

The three-year plan intended to redefine the NFB's relationship with Indigenous people also includes a hiring target that would increase Indigenous representation to 4 per cent on the board's 400-member staff.

"We are ambitious; we want to make a difference and there is catch-up to do; it has been so difficult for Indigenous filmmakers," NFB commissioner Claude Joli-Coeur said in an interview on the eve of announcement.

The plan, which was inspired by recommendations from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the federal Liberals' public commitment to reconciliation, follows last week's announcement that the Canadian industry is clubbing together to establish an Indigenous screen office to ensure access to film, television and new-media production and distribution. The new office was unveiled at the Banff Television Festival and includes the participation of the NFB, the Canada Media Fund, the film funding agency Telefilm, the Canadian Media Producers Association, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and the CBC as well as private broadcasters and funds.

According to Statistics Canada's 2011 census, almost 5 per cent of Canadians identify as aboriginal; the NFB is hoping to approximate that ratio on its internal staff by 2025 but is allocating three times that percentage to Indigenous production, where it already spends an average of 9 per cent of budgets. Mr. Joli-Coeur explained that the idea was to compensate for past inadequacies including systemic discrimination against filmmakers and to recognize that the Indigenous population is growing rapidly, increasing as a percentage of the Canadian total by about .5 per cent every five years.

"The biggest challenge for me is not at the production level. We are so anchored; everyone from St. John's to Vancouver is working with Indigenous creators," he said.

He added the larger challenge is inside the NFB where there is currently only one Indigenous producer, the award-winning Alanis Obomsawin, the 84-year-old documentarian who directed such films as Kanehsatake: 100 Years of Resistance and Trick or Treaty? The board will need to hire 14 Indigenous employees by 2025 to meet its goal and Mr. Joli-Coeur said that could equally well include a lawyer, accountant or administrative assistant as a producer.

The NFB has a long history of making films about Canada's First Nations, sometimes from respectful non-Indigenous perspectives, sometimes from less sensitive ones. That changed in 1968, however, when the board recognized that Indigenous people had a right to tell their own stories and established the "Indian Film Crew." Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell's You Are on Indian Land, a 1969 record of protests at a border crossing near Cornwall, Ont., which the NFB recently recredited to the Mohawk director and activist, was the one of the earliest examples.

More recently, the NFB's portfolio has included many well-recognized Indigenous documentaries including Reel Injun, a 2009 film about how Indigenous North Americans are portrayed on film, and last year's Angry Inuk, a doc about how international protests against the seal hunt effect the Inuit.

Nonetheless, Mr. Joli-Coeur said systemic discrimination has persisted in a complex industry with set ideas about efficient creative processes.

The new screen office will also address this issue directly by establishing an umbrella organization that can help Indigenous projects, including feature films, short films, TV programs and interactive media, navigate funding, production and distribution. Its creation follows the recommendation of a 2016 report complied by the Canada Media Fund, which assembled industry and government groups to address the issue last year.

Jeff Lemire says he worked on his new graphic novel Roughneck at the same time as the Gord Downie project, Secret Path. The illustrator says “Roughneck” addresses themes of violence and addiction in indigenous communities.

The Canadian Press

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