Night Raiders Comes Home
A film can’t change the past or undue great harm.
However, what a film can do is inspire, bring hope and instill a sense of pride in those it touches.
The desire to make a positive difference in her community is what inspired Cree-Métis director Danis Goulet to bring her critically acclaimed debut feature, Night Raiders, to various Indigenous communities across Canada.
“It was always a plan to do some kind of community tour in conjunction with the film,” says Goulet.
“Within the Indigenous screen community, the discussions around audience and access has been a robust conversation that has been going on for many years. In the early 2000s, I remember hearing all about the tours in the far north that Zacharias Kunuk’s (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) production company Isuma did, and their commitment to bringing Indigenous films to Indigenous communities has always been an inspiration.”
Set in a post-war, dystopian 2043, Night Raiders finds Niska (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) living in the woods with her 11-year-old daughter, Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart). They’re in hiding to protect Waseese from being seized and placed in a military institution that trains children to become the next generation of soldiers.
However, when Waseese is taken away, Niska joins an Indigenous rebel group, the Night Raiders, in order to rescue her daughter and the other children.
Goulet deftly uses the sci-fi/thriller genre to reflect on the historic trauma of the residential school system, while also showing the Indigenous characters’ resistance, as they fight back against the abusive system.
Night Raiders set the record for the widest theatrical opening for an Indigenous film, screening in 80 locations across the country. However, as Adrian Love, Elevation Pictures’ Executive Vice President and General Manager explains, more folks needed to see the movie.
“Night Raiders is such a powerful, timely and beautifully made film that our goal from the beginning of the release was to try to get as large an audience for the film as possible. While discussing the size of our release with the filmmaking team, it was clear that there were communities where Danis wanted to show the film that didn't have traditional theatres.”
Canada Media Fund, which co-financed the making of Night Raiders, also recognized the film needed to be seen by Indigenous audiences. CMF provided the funding to bring Night Raiders to four Indigenous communities in the late fall of 2021. Elevation Pictures teamed with Stories First Productions, an Indigenous-owned and operated production company to organize the tour, which was made all the more challenging during a pandemic.
“Indigenous communities were already underserved here by virtue of theatrical reach and connectedness,” says Stories First founder Leena Minifie. “The impact of covid in many communities was, and continues to be, severe. This adds an additional layer of planning as we had to be prepared to pivot events at any point should the community end up back in lockdown.”
The tour includes stops at Lac La Ronge, Kettle and Stony Creek First Nation, Opaskwyak Cree Nation and The Wiikwemkoong First Nation.
Saskatchewan native Goulet was especially excited to screen Night Raiders in her hometown of La Ronge.
“Bringing Night Raiders home was really meaningful,” says Goulet. “It feels like a full circle coming back. I made this film for the folks back home first so I really hope that by bringing it home, they can feel that it belongs to them too. I grew up not seeing myself or my experience reflected on film or on TV. I hope that by bringing it home, people get a chance to see themselves and their experiences on screen.”
Community leader Laura Burnouf helped organize the La Ronge event and says it was an incredibly special night at the Kikinahk Friendship Centre.
“It was a heartwarming moment when Danis was introduced for the first time before the film started,” says Burnouf. “The loud cheers, clapping and warm welcome felt perfect.”
The movie features dialogue spoken in Cree, which Burnouf says was amazing for the audience to hear.
“The Cree language, spoken throughout the film, was authentic and validated its importance to the people that are learning and to those that understand and/or speak it. Due to the ongoing efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages, hearing authentic Cree language spoken embraced us all with hope and pride.”
The Night Raiders tour shows what can be accomplished when players from across the Canadian filmmaking spectrum work together — Canada Media Fund, the filmmakers, the distributor and production team.
And the results can change people’s attitudes and perceptions.
“For over a hundred years of cinema history, Indigenous people have been misrepresented on screen and this misrepresentation has real life consequences,” says Goulet. “I hope that this story resonates with Indigenous audiences as something they can be proud of. Our stories deserve to be seen in larger platforms and when we centre Indigenous stories on screen in the right way, we centre our own humanity, beauty and complexity.”