By Kristine Pregot
Caroline Monnet’s Mobilize takes viewers on a journey from Canada’s far north to its urban south, telling the story of those who live on the land and “are driven by the pulse of the natural world.” Mobilize is part of Souvenir, a four-film series addressing the Aboriginal identity and representation by reworking material in the National Film Board of Canada’s archives.
The above description of Mobilize doesn’t do the film justice. It was amazing, and I was so impressed with this while attending Sundance’s Short Program 1 — the way the footage was brought together through the music and editing — that I had to interview Monnet about her process.
Can you explain how you conceived of the idea for the short?
I was one of four filmmakers approached by the National Film Board of Canada to create a four-minute film addressing Aboriginal identity. The idea was to revamp their archives in a contemporary way, with new meaning and context. I decided to focus on a positive representation of natives and explored the idea of moving forward. I used images with movement, people building stuff and showing off their skills. Really just natives kicking ass on screen!
I also thought it was interesting to use archival footage to speak about the future, to express an idea of contemporaneity while still honoring the past. I knew I wanted the film to feel like a journey, be fast paced and exhilarating. I wanted our hearts to start pounding as if it is time to stand up and mobilize.
How did you choose your music?
I decided to go with Tanya Tagaq’s song Uja to complement the visuals and inform the editing process. Tagaq is a Canadian Inuit throat singer. Her metal/punk/tribal sound helped in adding a level of urgency and intensity and in making the footage contemporary. Her music makes up 50 percent of the experience.
What was your editing process like?
The turn-around in making the films was extremely short — I had approximately one month. Along with editor Jesse Rivière, who cut on Adobe Premiere, we edited over an intense week. It was good to have a specific concept; this allowed me to go through the archives and search key words.
That must be a huge archive?
The National Film Board of Canada has over 700 hundred films in their catalog, so you can imagine the amount of archival footage they have available. I did not purposely choose footage from a specific film. I wanted images that could work well together and would fit my concept. I went with my instincts and began to naturally pick clips from specific films.
In Mobilize, I used a lot of footage from films such as Cree Hunters of Mistassini, César et son canot d’écorce and High Steel, among others. These films are recognizable because they were quite successful NFB films.
For my part, I deconstructed the films and placed them in a different context. I really focused on labor and the expression of specific skills. I think cultural expression remains cultural expression, but with Mobilize we don’t necessarily focus on a specific character or narrative, we focus on the work and celebrating the amazing skills of these individuals. I juxtaposed a lot of footage of people building stuff and moving in a specific direction. The way I’ve reworked the footage make it seem as if people are preparing for something… getting ready for something important coming.
I wanted Mobilize to be an experience where viewers would be in for an upbeat adventure where their heart would start pounding, they would be out of breath and bombarded by a positive rendition of indigenous expression — a fast-paced ride where they would feel indigenous people are very well alive, moving forward, anchored in today’s reality, vibrant and contemporary.
What was the original footage shot on?
The original footage was shot on 16mm film, and I purposely decided to only use that kind of footage. It had to be color, and it had to be film. This was important because I wanted the film to have a certain consistency. I wanted audiences to wonder if I shot the footage myself or if it was really found footage. The 16mm footage adds a level of nostalgia and warmth to the piece without being outdated.
Where was the footage converted?
The National Film Board of Canada must have spent months digitizing all the films they produced over the years. I felt very lucky to have access to that material. There is some very valuable footage of indigenous expression that is still relevant today and could be used as a tool for education.
There are two parts of the piece — can you talk about that?
Mobilize is a call for action. It is also a call to change perceptions on native people. It’s about being capable of movement, mobilizing us to keep moving forward and encouraging people to act for political and social change. I also think the title has a double meaning, because there are different ways of mobilizing ourselves. Building a canoe or snowshoes takes massive skills, and I wanted to showcase that.
I also wanted the outcomes to be positive. Today, being “urban indigenous” doesn’t make you any less native, or any more assimilated. It is just a reality that exists. For me, the ending of the film is not about assimilation or that there there is more opportunities in the cities. I wanted to celebrate the value of hard labor, whether it’s done in an urban or a natural setting.
The sequencing of the images speak a bit about my own family history, where my grandparents where living in the bush, and with the passing generations we became more and more urban. However, this does not mean that I cannot go back to the bush and learn all these things.
I refer to “people always moving forward” as a statement to say that we are everywhere, well present, active and ready to kick some serious ass.
Where can viewers watch this? Is this available online?
For now Mobilize is doing the festival circuit. It played at the Holiday Village Cinema in Park City on January 30. Next is Berlinale (Berlin), Uppsala (Sweden) and Tampere (Finland). Also, the National Film Board of Canada is planning on putting the film online this spring.
In the meantime, you can check out a clip at www.nfb.ca/film/mobilize/clip/mobilize_clip.
Kristine Pregot is a senior producer at New York City-based Nice Shoes.