On Nov. 1, The Cinema Politica team wanted to generate conversations on the themes of land and reconciliation with this screening about the Oka crisis
Cinema Politica kicked off its fall programming on Nov.1 with a screening of the award-winning movie BEANS. The film by director Tracey Deer premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2020. BEANS recounts the story of the Oka Crisis through the eyes of 12-year-old Tekehentahkhwa, nicknamed Beans, played by Kiawenti:io. The screening was followed by a discussion with actress Brittany LeBorgne who plays Karahwen’hawi, a member of the Mohawk community, in the film.
“The occupation of an ancient pine forest on the Mohawk reserve of Kanesatake is in its fourth month. The people here are protecting a burial ground from being levelled for a golf course expansion by the neighbouring town of Oka,” explained a voice in the movie’s trailer. The Oka Crisis occured in 1990 in response to a golf course expansion project, which immediately faced resistance from the Mohawk community. The official start date of the crisis was July 11, 1990, when Quebec’s police force intervened in the conflict. The Mohawks had been blocking the road leading to the piece of land since March, and the city of Oka had tried pressuring them to bring their barricade down, without any success.
The Mohawks of Kahnawake were also involved in the conflict, as they blocked the Honoré Mercier bridge in support of the Kanesatake community. In August, the Canadian army came in to provide back-up to the local police force. The events created tension between the residents of the surrounding cities and the Mohawk communities. The violent crisis concluded on Sept. 26, 1990, when the Mohawk resistance came to an agreement with the army.
The film presents these historical events through the coming-of-age story of Beans who lives in the Mohawk community of Kanesatake. The young girl is building her identity as she hopes to enter a private high school, and tries to fit in with a group of older teenagers. She is faced with the reality of the Oka crisis, with the film showing the anger and fear growing within her as she experiences the violence taking place during the summer of 1990. The lives of Beans and her family, including her mother Lily and little sister Ruby played by Rainbow Dickerson and Violah Beauvais respectively, as well as the greater community are complemented by archival videos of the actual events.
In BEANS, Deer highlights the violence and racism experienced by the Mohawks. The film is an eye-opening and touching depiction of the reality of the conflict. The director was inspired by her personal experience of the Oka crisis. “I was Beans. I was twelve-years-old when I lived through an armed stand-off between my people and the Quebec and Canadian governments known as The Oka Crisis. The Mohawk Nation of Kanesatake and Kahnawà:ke stood up to a formidable bully — and won. That summer I knew I wanted to become a filmmaker and vowed to one day tell this story,” wrote Deer in her notes on the film.
Deer received the TIFF Emerging Talent Award 2020 after releasing BEANS. The film was part of the festival’s Top Ten for Canada list and won The Best Motion Picture Award at the Canadian Screen Awards, among other accolades.
For Rania Salawdeh, assistant coordinator for Cinema Politica, BEANS touched on important current issues. “We really wanted to have this kind of conversation around the lands that we currently live in, so everyone relates to it to a certain extent because it’s a locationality that they know, it’s a place that they’re aware of, it’s a history that they do not know but that they are positioned in. And I think that was a feeling that we wanted to provoke in the audiences,” she said.
Since 2003, Cinema Politica’s mission has been to present political films from independent creators that touch on current themes and issues. For Salawdeh, the conversation following the screening of a film is an important part of the experience. “We also need not only to consume films but also contextualize films and see how we as audiences can interact with the film materials as well. […] There’s that relation I think, between seeing a political film and having a political conversation,” she said.
Cinema Politica will be presenting its next screening on Nov. 15 at La Sala Rossa. Titled Queer for Palestine, the program will feature several short films created by artists from Palestine and Lebanon. The presentation is part of the 10-day Queer Cinema for Palestine Festival.
Visual courtesy of Maia Iotzova