As part of the imagineNative film festival (through Oct. 26, various venues), on Saturday, the author Joseph Boyden reads from his Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, the story about aboriginal children and Canadian residential schools he wrote for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The reading by the Giller-winning author, who is a Canadian Métis of Irish, Scottish and Ojibwa heritage, will accompany the animated film Snip by Terril Calder. We spoke to Mr. Boyden from Vancouver.
You worked with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet on the new ballet Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation. Were you able to attend the premiere earlier this month?
I saw the first two nights, and I was stunned. Just blown away. The small story I gave them, they turned into something so beautiful. I was touched by it. But it's not just about me. It was a collaboration.
You've had such great success with your novels, but this is another world. How was the whole experience for you?
A few years ago, my wife Amanda, who's a novelist as well, and I said to each other that if we're going to keep growing as writers we can't be scared to try new things, new forms. So, the ballet, for example. What did I know about ballet? But then I realized that it was the kind of challenge my wife and I had talked about.
And now the same story has been reinterpreted by the Métis artist Terril Calder as an animated short film.
I've watched it. It's incredible. That's two new projects that were collaborations. You have to trust who you're collaborating with. And I have. I've been lucky so far that it's worked out beautifully.
So, great art and different forms of expression, but there's also the heavy subject matter, and the pain involved, right?
There are thousands of stories about the residential schools. The point of it is not to beat the viewer over the head with the club of righteousness. It's to say, look, this is one way of dealing with that pain so the healing can begin. Terril Calder did a brilliant job of approaching the story from a different angle. It takes you off guard.
We see these stories being told through the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and we see traditional music from a Tribe Called Red and Tanya Tagaq being performed in bold new ways. What's the significance of these things?
They're contemporizing the traditional, in a way that allows young people, and old people, to realize that this isn't just a thing of the past. That it is a living culture that transforms just as any culture does. Also, this is a collaboration, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. There are no aboriginals in the ballet, but every one of them participated in a sweat lodge and a ceremony beforehand to try to begin to understand.
Can we separate the politics from the art?
I don't know that you can. The whole point of residential schools was to take the Indian out of the Indian. As Drew Hayden Taylor said, just being born First Nations is a political act. You're saying, "In terms of my culture and my skin, I wasn't supposed to be here, but I am."
Joseph Boyden reads, as accompaniment to the short film Snip, Oct. 25, 3 p.m., $7, TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King St. W. (imagineNative information: 416-599-8433 or imaginenative.org.)