OPTIMISTA’s third event of four in a series of hope-themed cinéconferences
Love was presented by the non-profit arts and activism-centered Yellow Pad Sessions (YPS) in February at the Maison de la culture de Verdun. The event was part three of four in a unique series of hope-themed cinéconferences titled OPTIMISTA.
The evening included a live performance by vocalist and Cirque du Soleil artist Laur Fugère, and a live conference and spoken word performance from Innu poet Joséphine Bacon. It also included a screening of the feature film Je m’appelle humain and an exhibition of five oil paintings by former Concordia student Hannahleah Ledwell.
Fugère’s live music performance was spiritual, sensual, and entirely improvised. She kneeled onstage, surrounded by lit white candles and crystal bowls.
The performance began with the ringing of a bell, followed by a sigh. Each sound cut through the near-complete silence of the audience. Gradually, Fugère incorporated sounds from a rain stick, crystal singing bowls, and a flute. Her voice was ethereal and at times transcendent, ranging from soft breaths to near-sobs.
“There is something that I feel like I’m tapping into,” Fugère said. “And it makes me very emotional […] it brings me into this state of awe for being able to be a channel of what wants to come through.”
Bacon entered stage left, wearing red and white socks with no shoes. She began to read her poetry in Innu-aimun, and then in French. Her calm, earthy voice was layered over the otherworldly song of Fugère’s singing bowls, and the two women looked at one another and smiled. The intimacy of this moment was extraordinary.
“[Bacon] embodies simplicity, and she embodies the heart, and she entrains us in her world of connection,” said Fugère. “Just dancing with her words and with her eyes […] it was wonderful. I loved it.”
“Dis-moi que je suis ton au-delà, / Dis-mois que tu es mon au-delà, / toi, l’animal blessé, / tes ancêtres t’ont conduit à moi / pour me raconter les images / de tes rêves” (tell me that I am your beyond, / you, the wounded animal, / your ancestors led you to me / to show me the visions / of your dreams) Bacon recited. Even when the language could not be understood, the steady flow of the performance was compelling and had a beauty of its own.
Fugère and Bacon were joined onstage by two Indigenous children: a boy and a girl. “Ça va?” (How are you doing?) asked Bacon. She took a seat in the middle of the stage and the children sat on either side, passing a microphone between themselves.
“Ç’est quoi, l’amour?” (What is love?) asked the girl.
“C’est son grand-père, c’est ta grand-mère. C’est ton père, ta mère, ta sœur. C’est tout le monde,” (It is his grandfather, it is your grandmother. It’s your father, your mother, your sister. It is everyone) Bacon responded. “L’amour, c’est aimer nos origines. L’amour, il est grand.” (Love is to love our origins. Love, it is great.)
The screening of Je m’appelle humain followed a brief intermission and brought with it a sense of love and hope. Directed by Abenaki filmmaker Kim O’Bomsawin, the film is a biographical piece of visual and aural poetry in exploration of Bacon’s life and raison d’être.
The film opens with a picturesque view of rock sculptures in formation along the ocean shore. “To me, poetry is intimate moments like this one,” said Bacon. “The word ‘poetry’ does not exist in Innu. I don’t think we needed the word in our language because we were poets simply by being with the land.”
Bacon writes her poetry in both Innu-aimun and French. “My dress is called lichen / My headdress is called eagle / My song is called drum / I am called human,” she recited. She spoke of the importance of preserving and knowing her language.
“When the elders are telling a story and you understand all the words, you join them in their story and see what they’re seeing,” she said.
She dreamt about living as her elders did. She spoke about her time in the residential school system, though briefly. “It hurts to talk about it,” she said.
When she reaches the ancestral land of Papakassik, she is overcome with emotion. “I live in the present, the past of my ancestors,” she said. “This is an ancestral land. You can feel their presence […] I am free on the land of Papakassik.”
Throughout Je m’appelle humain, Bacon takes us through the lands she knows: the streets of Montreal and the Innu territories of Pessamit and Natashquan. “When we got to Montreal we were pretty much homeless,” she said.
Je m’appelle humain is at once the story of Bacon and the people she loves, and a fight against the loss of her language, culture and its traditions. The film ends with Bacon whispering her gratitude to a dead caribou she will presumably eat. “I embrace you,” she whispered. “The caribou is a nomad, just like the Innu.” What is left after the closing scene is a sense of simultaneous hope, loss, vulnerability, and strength.
Ledwell’s ongoing exhibition Anthromorphe was meditative, erotic and intimate, painting an exploration of the various forms of love. “For me, my work is all based in memory, reliving moments and going back into a kind of muscle memory. And a lot of [those moments] end up being intimate moments because those are moments where we feel a lot of complex emotion,” said Ledwell. “I go back into those moments when I’m painting. Usually blast music, dance a bit, and I think that’s what creates a lot of the movement in my paintings.”
Love is part of OPTIMISTA’s Fall 2022-Winter 2023 premiere and Yellow Pad Sessions’ latest endeavour to leverage the power of art and persuade social change.
“OPTIMISTA is really born out of a response to the pandemic,” said executive director and co-founder of YPS Grace Sebeh Byrne. “We used to put on more traditional film festivals, but we saw that clearly there was a very big shift in perspective, generally speaking. There was a lot of hopelessness, despair.”
“We wanted it to be more of a festival of hope,” added Patrick Byrne, co-founder of YPS.
OPTIMISTA’s last event of the series, Community, took place on March 4.