Parents and their children against riot squads; a collapsing nation fighting for their land; a government denying and trampling fundamental rights to its people. One would assume that we are talking here of a repressive regime. Sadly, it is a description of what goes on in our collective Canadian backyard.
Honour Your Word, a documentary made by Canadian filmmaker Martha Stiegman, tackles the particular situation of the Algonquin community of Barriere Lake. In 1991, a trilateral conservation deal was made between the Algonquins, and the Quebec and Canadian governments, to oversee the land. The agreement remains unhonoured by the governments, resulting in the struggle of the land’s inhabitants to keep their culture alive.
By following two prominent leaders of this small community fighting for what they believe is just, Stiegman makes us share in the everyday life of a family committed to the survival of their traditions.
Pictures of joyful children playing and proud parents fishing or hunting clash drastically with the vision of them facing, without blinking, police forces brought straight from our worst Maple Spring collective memories.
Using cinematography composed of serene images of nature and intimate familial scenes, we come to understand why the Algonquins have been fighting all their life as children, adults and elders for their ancestral lands and customs.
In this film, the director’s approach gives us what we could define more as a collection of profound and heartfelt testimonies rather than a strongly narrated and condemning documentary — such as we have gotten used to those thanks to the Michael Moores of this world.
When compared to today’s high-octane documentaries, Honour Your Word can seem a little monotonous at times. However, its sober style and slow pace fits perfectly the veiled emotions and calm attitudes of its protagonists.
You cannot help but feel empathy for these proud people, but it would have been profitable for both the viewers and the movie itself to balance the documentary with interviews of people on the other side of the barricade. This would have avoided the simple black-and-white dichotomy, in which too many engaged documentaries find themselves entrenched in, for a more nuanced point of view of this sensitive subject.
Nonetheless, the composed and peaceful state of mind emanating from the Algonquin people, even when constantly facing adversity, successfully differentiates this movie from others that usually carry crude depictions of a violent and hysterical First Nation community. Ultimately, Honour your Word is a poetic yet sad story of a powerless but ever-fighting David at war with a merciless Goliath.
Honour Your Word will have its Canadian premiere as part of Cinema Politica. Director Martha Stiegman will be in attendance. The screening will take place on Feb. 10, 7pm in the D. B. Clarke Theatre — 1455 de Maisonneuve W.