National Post (Latest Edition)

HORRORS OF THE PAST PERSIST

NIGHT RAIDERS FLAWED BUT IMPORTANT FILM, A MILESTONE IN FIRST NATIONS CINEMA

- Chris Knight

Night Raiders

Cast: Elle-máijá Tailfeathe­rs, Brooklyn Letexier-hart Director: Danis Goulet

Duration: 1 h 37 m Available: In theatres

This century’s mid-teens to mid-20s may be remembered as a time when flourishin­g First Nations cinema transcende­d traditiona­l boundaries to make inroads into genre filmmaking. The 2016 Inuktitut Searchers was a western. Jeff Barnaby’s excellent Blood Quantum gave us a Métis-zombie mash-up. And Night Raiders marks a bold move into the realm of dystopian science fiction from writer/director and first-time feature filmmaker Danis Goulet. The Canada/new Zealand co-production is set in the 2040s.

North America has been through a civil war, driven by friction between political factions. Now a wall separates the rich, authoritar­ian south from a new north strong and free — and impoverish­ed. It’s here that we meet Niska (Elle-máijá Tailfeathe­rs, also in Blood Quantum) and her 11-year-old daughter, Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-hart), living off the grid and on the run.

In Goulet’s imagined future, children are the property of the state and must be surrendere­d to government schools for education and assimilati­on under the motto: “One country, one language, one flag.” Niska, who speaks fluent Cree as well as English, doesn’t want any of that, but she ends up letting Waseese go so the child can receive medical attention. And thus is the stage set for an eventual raid to recover her.

You’d have to been living pretty far off-grid yourself to miss the implied similariti­es between these futuristic institutio­ns and the residentia­l school system of 19th- and 20th-century Canada. Just in case, Goulet has educators telling their charges: “The people you come from aren’t bad, but they are incapable.

They come to us for handouts. They can’t take care of their families.”

It may strike some as a little too on-the-nose, but the message, cloaked in computeriz­ed security systems and drones, is an urgent one common to much science fiction — namely, that the horrors of the past are with us still, waiting to take another turn if we let them.

Alas, there’s less precise world-building beyond this central metaphor, with Night Raiders’ limited budget the chief culprit. The government forces are made up of generic gun-toting bad guys. Niska’s allies, including a Maori transplant played by New Zealand’s Alex Tarrant, will be familiar to anyone who has seen post-apocalypti­c favelas whose chief exports seem to be hemp, flax and despair. And the design similariti­es to other films — Children of Men was mentioned often at the Toronto festival, where the film had its Canadian premiere — is almost distractin­g.

Night Raiders is ultimately a flawed film but an important one, not least because it heralds the emergence of another First Nations talent in Goulet. She’s currently at work on Ivy, a Toronto-shot thriller produced by Netflix. It’s not a First Nations story, but I’m looking forward to it, and to whatever else her future brings.

 ?? PHOTOS: ELEVATION PICTURES ?? Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-hart), left, and Niska (Elle-máijá Tailfeathe­rs) star in Night Raiders, directed by Danis Goulet.
The film, rooted in dystopian science fiction, represents a worthy venture into genre filmmaking for First Nations cinema.
PHOTOS: ELEVATION PICTURES Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-hart), left, and Niska (Elle-máijá Tailfeathe­rs) star in Night Raiders, directed by Danis Goulet. The film, rooted in dystopian science fiction, represents a worthy venture into genre filmmaking for First Nations cinema.
 ?? ?? Amanda Plummer stars in Night Raiders, an intense dystopian portrait of timeless Indigenous struggle, directed by Danis Goulet.
Amanda Plummer stars in Night Raiders, an intense dystopian portrait of timeless Indigenous struggle, directed by Danis Goulet.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada