An Innu man from Quebec broke barriers on Sunday at the Gala du Quebec Cinema, taking home a prestigious trophy for his debut documentary.
It was the first ever win for an Indigenous filmmaker, and Kevin Bacon-Hervieux’s first feature-length film.
“Once I heard my name – for me, it wasn’t real,” Bacon-Hervieux said. “Never did I think I’d win.”
The 26-year-old now touts the Iris Prize – the Quebec equivalent of an Academy Award – for his film Innu Nikamu: Chanter la Resistance, which took nearly six years to produce.
“I thought it would be heavier,” Bacon-Hervieux explained while holding the prize, a 13-inch aluminum trophy designed by sculptor Marc-Antoine Côté.
The 90-minute film – available in both French and English, chronicles the history of the Innu Nikamu Music and Aboriginal Arts Festival, which held its inaugural edition in 1985.
“I wanted, with this film, for people – non-Natives – to feel invited. To come our way on the reserve, in Mali Utenam, to celebrate with us,” he said.
The gathering is held annually in the community 900 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Before ever attempting a film, Bacon-Hervieux says he felt compelled to involve himself in the planning and execution of the festival, which for many years has tried to extend its reach to non-Indigenous spectators and performance artists.
In 2014, at 22, Bacon-Hervieux entered a film prospectus into a contest and won a bursary that kick-started the novice filmmaker’s first-ever film project – while also working as the festival’s artistic director.
But the story, he concedes, belongs to his home community.
When scouting locations back in 1985, the community decided to reclaim their narrative and hold the festival on the grounds of the former Sept-Iles Indian Residential School – a dark stain on Mani-Utenam’s history.
“It was an enormous challenge to integrate this heavy story into a film I wanted to be very positive,” Bacon-Hervieux said. “For me, and I think for people in general, the festival isn’t related to the history of residential schools.”
“But the residential school in Mali Utenam united the community,” he added.
The festival itself pays tribute to ancient traditions.
Every summer, the Innu would return from the seasonal caribou hunt to hold weddings and festivities by the north shore of the Saint-Lawrence River.
Many believe that Innu Nikamu re-ignited hope in a community that had known too much distress.
A rough cut of the film ran nearly five hours long, Bacon says, because every anecdote was significant to the history of Quebec’s Innu population.
Now shortened, the film serves as an introduction to Innu music, culture, and the complexities of Quebec history.
“All that we did with this film was be honest. To retell what happened,” Bacon-Hervieux said.
The Innu Nikamu festival will be held in Mali Utenam between August 1st and the 4th .