Director of the Year: Danis Goulet

Her dystopian debut feature film Night Raiders made a celebrated trip around the film circuit and broke box office records.

By Jolene Banning

While the world was contending with COVID-19, writer and director Danis Goulet stayed focused on her first feature film, Night Raiders.

There is some consolation that the Cree-Métis filmmaker’s female-driven dystopian sci-fi thriller – with its lesson of resilience – blew up at the box office, and on the international stage, as Goulet was unable to attend the film’s world premiere at Berlinale.

She did have the opportunity to see her debut feature premiere at TIFF, as well as imagineNATIVE, the world’s largest Indigenous film and media festival. In the midst of all that she directed her second feature film, Netflix thriller Ivy.

Playback caught up with Goulet to celebrate the remarkable achievement of her Canada-New Zealand co-pro. Here an abridged version of that interview:

What has this year meant in the context of your career overall?

It was definitely a massive undertaking for me and the biggest project I’d ever done. And it was challenging on many levels. I think first off, straight up, it was my first feature, but also that it was a decent budget for a first feature. And we were very ambitious. And then I think in the Indigenous context…. there was an obvious allegory for harmful colonial policies. And I think I felt the enormous weight of responsibility in talking about that because it is so painful for all of our communities. The topic was so important for me to hold in the right way.

What do you think Indigenous creatives are bringing to the international media business scene?

I think that they are bringing unique perspectives that bring a kind of specificity and uniqueness that you really cannot find anywhere else. And it is part of the reason why I’ve been a part of a decades-long advocacy push, and many people before I was even on the scene, to really get support for stories about Indigenous people that are told by us. You know, we’re so familiar with the century of misrepresentation on film and that has to change. But I think as a part of this advocacy push, we’ve always said, gaze matters, and it’s not just about correcting problematic wrongs and righting them. It’s also better storytelling.

Your movie is riffing off of history and future, can you describe the barriers or the obstacles that you hope are relegated to history, and what freedom and success could look like for the Indigenous independent TV and film production?

There’s so much talent and we’ve always said, just give us the opportunities and resources and we will make it happen. This hasn’t always been the case and the barriers for Indigenous people are real in our industry. Many of them were up against racism in the industry, against ignorance, against a lack of faith that their stories could have an audience or would be marketable or successful at the box office. For myself personally, I’ve been told to take the Cree out of my movie in order to make it more accessible. I’ve been told that an allegory for residential schools is no longer relevant because as a country we’ve moved on from that, which by the way, I got that note in the very month the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released their findings. We need to have Indigenous people in all kinds of roles or filmmakers will always be up against what the gatekeepers just simply don’t understand, or don’t have the vision for.

Can you talk about some of the work that still needs to be done to make a safer work environment for Indigenous screen industry talent and the creators?

Indigenous people need to be represented across the industry as film festival programmers, broadcasters, distributors, producer, all across the board. We need Indigenous crew in all levels of crew, so that there’s a greater Indigenous presence on set. That’s really important to the way we tell our stories. I totally subscribed to the Indigenous Screen Office’s call where, when it comes to Indigenous stories, it’s ‘nothing about us without us.’

What was the highlight of this year? What’s your biggest opportunity next year?

Opening imagineNATIVE has been a dream of mine. I was involved in the festival way back in the day and to come full circle and open the festival just felt like it was a dream. The artistic director Niki Little, her Q&A, when Indigenous people talk about the film, it is always different. It goes deep, it’s profound and it’s so meaningful. And I was just so grateful for the conversation that she prompted with her focus on relationality. And I think there was just an understanding and a depth of understanding that I didn’t get anywhere else. For next year, I really want to start developing a new project that I got funding for. As soon as I have a window of time, I want to go home and start percolating the next one.

This article originally appeared in Playback’Winter 2021 issue.