Canadian filmmaker Jennifer Dysart was an entrant in the Latino Cinemedia Shorts Program of the 22nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival with I'll Sing To You. The film tells the story of a city girl who visits her family’s reservation for the first time and meets a half-brother she was previously unaware of.
El Bicho: While I'm sure you were just happy to have your film included in the festival, I was puzzled why it was a part of the Latino Cinemedia program?
Jennifer Dysart: Event programmer Cedar Sherbert said that he thought it important that the Latino category include indigenous films as these large scale international festivals can be quite exclusive.
Terms like “Latino” provide a shorthand about a person’s ethnicity and background. How would you describe yourself?
I don’t have a straight answer! I call myself Cree (or from the Cree Nation), and when asked, “What's that?” by an American, I say, for simplicity, I’m Native American. First Nations works well in a formal/political setting like Canada. I use Indian on occasion, but usually in closed circles - i.e. in the company of other Aboriginal people. Out of respect for people from the country called India, I try to reserve the word Indian for people of that origin. Sometimes I say Aboriginal, the root of that word implies being an outsider so I avoid it except when in the company of government types because it’s quite common in Canadian government. language. Indigenous is my favorite as it is inclusive but specific.
That’s a lot to keep track of. While we all are different things to different people, it really comes to the forefront for you. What do you identify as?
I am a mixed race Cree/German /Scottish woman... quite often the mixed race issue is overlooked, but I think this is one of the most important things that I have to offer as a filmmaker. The mixed-race perspective is one that is continually erased. We are expected to take our place in the established polarized camps. Yet, in these places, our unique experiences belonging in two (or more) places are not allowed to take shape. And often, if you don't possess certain traits that signify being “other,” we're treated as outsiders anyway.
The uniqueness of your ethnicity hasn’t been presented much in the arts. Your point of view provides you a great opportunity in an untapped area.
I think there is a wealth of knowledge and perspective and really interesting stories that come from being mixed-race. These are the stories that I want to tell. The female perspective is important too, because often women are the glue that keeps the world happening with love and we are the ones who care for our histories.