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Aboriginal film festival third-largest on continent

HE'S the coveted guest who got away.

Dennis Banks, a controversial First Nations activist from Minnesota who co-founded the American Indian Movement, is the subject of a new feature-length documentary called A Good Day to Die. It's generating so much buzz, the 73-year-old Banks is in demand all over the United States.

The film screens tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Cinematheque as part of the ninth annual Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF). Festival artistic director Coleen Rajotte says she practically stalked Banks in an attempt to invite him here -- even tracking him by phone to his hotel at the recent American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco -- but came up empty.

"I was pestering this poor hotel desk clerk," Rajotte recalls. "He would have been a big draw... but someone said they weren't sure whether he would have been allowed into Canada, because he was turned away at one point."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/11/2010 (2492 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

HE'S the coveted guest who got away.

Dennis Banks, a controversial First Nations activist from Minnesota who co-founded the American Indian Movement, is the subject of a new feature-length documentary called A Good Day to Die. It's generating so much buzz, the 73-year-old Banks is in demand all over the United States.

The film screens tonight at 8:30 p.m. at Cinematheque as part of the ninth annual Winnipeg Aboriginal Film Festival (WAFF). Festival artistic director Coleen Rajotte says she practically stalked Banks in an attempt to invite him here — even tracking him by phone to his hotel at the recent American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco — but came up empty.

"I was pestering this poor hotel desk clerk," Rajotte recalls. "He would have been a big draw... but someone said they weren't sure whether he would have been allowed into Canada, because he was turned away at one point."

Despite that small setback, WAFF — which opened Wednesday and runs to Sunday — is packed with guests, educational events and more than 40 new indigenous films (about 10 features and more than 30 shorts) from Canada and the world.

Screenings take place at the University of Winnipeg's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall and Cinematheque. The gathering is the third-largest showcase of aboriginal cinema in North America, Rajotte says, after Toronto's ImagineNATIVE and the San Francisco fest.

Attendance doubled last year, leaping from about 1,500 in 2008 to 3,000.

High-profile features in the 2010 lineup include Two Indians Talking, a comedy/drama about two First Nations men as they prepare to erect a blockade (stars Nathaniel Arcand and Justin Rain will attend the screening Saturday) and La Mission, a drama about a macho Mexican-American (Benjamin Bratt) who finds out that his son is gay (supporting actor Patrick Shining Elk will attend Friday).

The five-day festival's theme is Moving Towards Healing. One addition this year, Rajotte says, is about four post-screening discussions, with directors in attendance, on topics such as activism, support for mothers and foster care.

"After the films, we're encouraging our audience to join us for cake and coffee... and create more dialogue. It's creating more of an experience, rather than just coming to see a movie."

Rajotte is passionate about a new festival project, Our Stories, Our Identities. It has enabled 20 aboriginal youths to be mentored — in part by actor/director Gary Farmer — to create six-minute personal documentaries about their lives.

Three of the completed films, dealing with losing a friend to suicide, parental alcoholism and foster care, are screening in the festival. Later this school year, all 20 filmmakers will go on a tour of Winnipeg high schools and Manitoba First Nations to share their documentaries.

For the full lineup and schedule, go to www.aboriginalfilmfest.org

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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