Writings / Reviews

Film Reviews

Lequanne Collins-Bacchus

Stirring the Windigo Spirit

A Windigo Tale
Director: Armand Garnet Ruffo
Cast: Gary Farmer, Andrea Menard, Jani Lauzon, Phillip Riccio, Elliot Simon, David Gardner, Lee Maracle, Brandon Oakes, Jon-Paul Khouri
(Windigo Productions, 2009)

Regardless of what you were doing on December 2nd, from catching up on your favourite television series to reading the night away, chances are you missed out on Armand Garnet Ruffo’s first venture into film. The Carleton community and invitees were given a sneak peak of A Windigo Tale at a private screening at Mayfair theatre. Judging by the standing ovation, the powerfully told film was seen unanimously as a true achievement.

An Ojibway poet and a professor at Carleton University, Ruffo’s directorial debut features a family’s harrowing past in a First Nation community; a past tied to a malevolent ‘windigo’ spirit which must be put to rest by an alienated mother, Doris (Jani Lauzon), and her equally estranged daughter, Lily (Andrea Menard). Following the tradition of storytelling, a grandfather (Gary Farmer) shares this history with his grandson Curtis (Elliot Simon) as they embark on a road trip through idyllic autumn landscapes. We learn about the family’s journey as the men travel on theirs, both experiences giving insight into the intergenerational effects of residential schools. This forms in the grandson an inchoate but unshakeable sense that other possibilities – rather than the nebulous and aimless one which has been developed through generations of marginalization – exist for him.

The acting itself is evocative of the emotional and psychological scars of a dark past. This film is an exercise in healing, as there is a feeling of authenticity in each role, bringing a charismatic presence to the screen. Much like a traditional storyteller, the ‘stars’ of A Windigo Tale pick you up slowly, take you on a memorable journey and leave you with a moral message to ponder upon without being didactic about it.

Even with the challenge of a thin budget, Ruffo’s depiction of loss and reconciliation possesses heart and cinematic sophistication. He beautifully contrasts the past and present with two different locations: the austere, boreal Six Nation Reserve, and the autumnal Ottawa area. His close attention to detail stylistically brings us closer to understanding a traumatic First Nation history. This, married with a politically conscious soundtrack, results in a tightly edited film with a moving portrayal of a healing of the past. From singer-songwriter Ian Tamblyn’s “The World of Wind & Ice,” to rap group War Party’s “Feeling Reserve,” the score spans many genres of music highlighting the intergenerational progressions, and giving a sense of hope for the future.

Requested for entry into the Sundance Film Festival and the Reel World Film Festival, this is a film to keep an eye out for – literally. Although Canada’s First Nation’s journey is not yet over, A Windigo Tale is another mile on the meandering road to healing.

Preview here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3YK6RDnGH3E


Good Hair
Director: Jeff Stilson
Starring: Chris Rock, Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton, Nia Long, Raven Symoné, Ice T, Paul Mooney, Kerry Washington
(Roadside Productions, 2009) Rated: PG-13

The secret is out.

The mystery of overnight foot-long hair growth and magical changes in hair texture is untangled in Chris Rock’s Good Hair. When Rock’s daughter asked him one day, ‘why don’t I have good hair?’ He was taken aback. Troubled by this notion of ‘good hair,’ Rock travels from Indian temples to quaint barbershops, from scientific laboratories to a hairstyling competition in search of the source of this idea in his daughter’s head.

Delving into the multi-layered question of how black women appraise their mane, Chris Rock discovers that the scalp of the matter lies deep within black consciousness. We are an audience to confessionals by Ice-T, Kerry Washington, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symoné, Maya Angelou, and Reverend Al Sharpton — all providing jocular insight into the significance of ‘good hair’ and it’s impact on black culture.

The pursuit of coiffure as defined by the European comb has resulted in a multi-billion dollar industry that exploits the misguided self-identity of black women – one groomed by a colonial past, not liberation from it. Knowing this, Rock frames the strain this hairy preoccupation places on many African-American lives — financially, professionally and socially — and insinuates that women should be more concerned with the kinks in their mind, rather than the kinks in their hair.

But don’t anticipate an intense debate because Rock, always a comedian, wants to make us laugh as well as think and that he does. Starkly neutral, this docu-comedy, even after presenting the facts, does not humour us with an analysis of economic exploitation, the health risks of fashion and racial identity. After combing through a head full of sardonic observations, only in a handful of confessionals and in the closing commentary are we grasping at hair strands of disappointment at this obsession. Good Hair is meant to wet the kinks in your mind, not wash it out.

Although not all black women, as the film presupposes, are enamoured of this ‘good hair’ psychology, this consistent, exoteric standard of beauty affects all. The crown on a black woman’s head is one to be worn with pride and has been for centuries — it never was weaved, extended, permed, coloured, texturized, or relaxed. Only by loving ourselves, can we expect others to do the same. Nonetheless, in the issue of ‘good hair’ as Maya Angelou opines, obsessive attention to the hair on your head always overrules that which is between your toes!

About The Author


Lequanne Collins-Bacchus studies philosophy and film at Carleton University.

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