Valerie G. Barnes Connell Jordan
Special to the Daily Herald
Danis Goulet brought her award-winning feature film, Night Raiders, home to the Kikinahk Friendship Centre for a special screening Dec. 3, 2021 with 80 people, all masked and socially distanced, attending.
Goulet was welcomed by Chief Tammy Cook Searson, of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) and Laura Burnouf, Métis Nation Saskatchewan Area Director, who hosted the event.
Cook-Searson spoke about Goulet’s dedication to her work over the years.
“She’s always connected to the north,” Cook-Searson said. “She always incorporates her language, her culture in everything that she does. She’s following her passion, and she’s giving our young people in the north here something to aspire to on Indigenous issues … you make us proud.”
Goulet was born in La Ronge and grew up here until her teen years, when her father, Dr. Keith Goulet, entered politics and moved his family to Regina, where Danis spent her high school years.
“I live in Toronto now, but I come back as much as I can because even after all these years, it always feels like coming home,” she said.
Night Raiders, Goulet’s first feature-length film, is different from other films she’s made. It’s a futuristic feature set in 2043 post-civil war North America.
“It [Night Raiders] imagines that children are the property of the state, so it’s like a dystopian apocalyptic movie and it tells the story of a Cree mother and daughter that are on the run trying to prevent the daughter from being taken away.”
Even though the film is set in an imaginary time it still holds a relevant message.
“The film is based on obviously real historical policies that have been inflicted upon Indigenous people, especially the Residential School System,” she explained. “That is something that I wanted to talk about in the film.”
Goulet began writing the film in 2013 when “It wasn’t being openly talked about enough.”
Subsequently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) finding and the uncovering of graves at the schools across the country, have become more prominent.
“It’s a very painful process but there is also something about it where I think it’s important that we continue to grapple with it, because it’s had such a profound impact on Indigenous Life.”
Keith Goulet made a cameo appearance, teaching Cree to children, in the film that has audiences on the edge of their seats more than once throughout.
Goulet praised the work of the cast including: a new, young actor, Brooklyn Letexier-Hart, who plays the daughter Waseese, and is from Winnipeg; Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, who plays the lead, Niska; and Gail Maurice, who hails from Beauval.
In the film there are also a “bunch of little things, like if La Ronge audiences are watching, they’re going to pick up some things that are from La Ronge in the film. So, I hope their excited about that,” she added.
Night Raiders has caught the attention of film goers around the world. It opened the previous summer at the Berlin Film Festival in Germany. It was presented as a Gala Presentation at the Toronto Film Festival.
“So, they rolled out the red carpet for all the cast and it was an amazing night,” Goulet said.
Goulet received a TIFF Tribute award for emerging artists, also at Toronto; A Discovery Award from the Director’s Guild of Canada; Grand Prize for Best Feature at the Festival du nouveau cinema de Montréal from a Montreal festival; a number of awards including Best Film and Best Director; Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role went to Brooklyn Letexier-Hart; and Gail Maurice for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role from the Red Nation International Film Festival in Los Angeles.
The film is also ground-breaking as it is the first New Zealand-Canada Indigenous production.
The film opened in 80 theatres across Canada in the fall and has been released in the US, UK and Japan.
“It’s really travelling all over the place,” Goulet said. “It’s had an incredible reception … it was amazing for an Indigenous film to go so wide in Canada … it was important to bring it home to La Ronge.”
Goulet made two short film in the La Ronge area in the past – Wapawekka, at Wapawekka Lake and Barefoot, filmed in La Ronge. In Barefoot she worked with the Late Elder Ida Tremblay, who was the Elder for the youth working on the film.
And what are Goulet’s hopes for the film? That the film goer sees Indigenous people reflected in an honourable way, and that it will spark the conversations, from an emotional perspective, on the issues.
Also for “audiences to understand the impact that these systems, like the Residential School System, actually had on families,” she explained. “I also wanted to tell a story that was hopeful and also showed our power and our perseverance and our love that has been in our community, which has gotten us through and so there’s a community aspect to the film … and for Indigenous audiences, I want them to feel like the film belongs to them, that they can celebrate it as their own.”