Caroline Monnet is a multidisciplinary artist who has exhibited in Canada and internationally at venues such as the Palais de Tokyo (Paris), Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Berlin), the Museum of Contemporary Art and Arsenal (Montreal) and the Toronto International Film Festival. She uses her work in film, video and sculpture to communicate complex ideas around Indigenous identity and bicultural living through the examination of cultural histories. Monnet is also a founding member of the Aboriginal digital arts collective ITWÉ. (Press materials)
“Mobilize” will premiere at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival on September 10.
W&H: Please give us your description of the film playing.
CM: “Mobilize” was made entirely with footage from the National Film Board’s archives. It was initially commissioned by the NFB as a project to be presented at the Aboriginal Pavilion during the Pan Am games in Toronto. Four Indigenous filmmakers were asked to revamp old archival footage to create new and groundbreaking works that would speak to Indigenous identity.
With this in mind, I ventured into creating “Mobilize” with the help of editor Jesse Rivière. The film explores the knowledge of those who live on the land and are driven by the pulse of the natural world. The film takes you on a journey from the far north to the urban south.
Over every landscape, in all conditions, everyday life flows with strength, skill and extreme competence. Hands swiftly thread sinew through snowshoes. Axes expertly peel birch bark to make a canoe. A master paddler navigates icy white waters. In the city, Mohawk ironworkers stroll across steel girders — almost touching the sky– and a young woman asserts her place among the towers.
Adding to the fearless adventure is Tanya Tagaq’s song “Uja,” which completes the exhilarating rhythm of the film.
W&H: What drew you to this story?
CM: When I was asked to portray Indigenous identity through archival images, I really wanted to focus on positive representation. Right away, I wanted to speak about a people moving forward, a people who are mobilizing themselves and far from being stagnant. We are contemporary, culturally rooted and constantly on the move. I thought it was interesting to use old footage to speak about the future, to express an idea of contemporaneity while still honoring the past. As an Indigenous person and filmmaker, there’s a perpetual negotiation between the modern and traditional, but I believe things are always moving forward.
W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
CM: Most definitely the biggest challenge in making the film was that I was given only one week to complete it. So the creative process has to be very instinctive, raw and fast-paced. I picked Tanya’s song first with the vision of a journey in mind. Then I gathered as much footage as I could from the archives. I decided to go for a 16mm color film aesthetic. I wanted the film to feel modern while keeping that beautiful grain of film.
Using only archives with a song is like putting together a puzzle, except you don’t know what the final image will look like. Changing one shot for another or just switching the order of the shots can really influence the mood of the overall film. Jesse, the editor, and I tried to work by associations of shots, analyzing each movement, color and texture, and just assembling from there.
The challenge in this case, working with just archival footage, is to figure out somewhat of a narrative. In the end, I think we managed to find an emotion and created that feeling of a fast-paced journey I was aiming for.
W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?
CM: I believe “Mobilize” is first and foremost an experience. People are in for an upbeat adventure. Their heart will start pounding, they’ll be out of breath and they’ll be bombarded by information. This is what I wanted to create: a film where people feel that Indigenous people are very much alive, moving forward, anchored in today’s reality, vibrant and contemporary. We’ve come a long way, and I think “Mobilize” [reflects] this well.
W&H: What advice do you have for other female directors?
CM: Do what you have to do. Never take no for an answer. Being female doesn’t mean you have less of a chance of becoming a successful filmmaker. Never stop following your dreams and listening to your visions; work hard and the rest will follow. Take your place, trust yourself and make sure you surround yourself with people who respect and celebrate you and the work you do.
W&H: What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
CM: I don’t have any formal academic training in filmmaking. I studied sociology, and it’s only later that I got into films. Because of this, I approach each film as a learning process — almost like an exercise that makes me better at what I do and refines my communication skills. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. And often, it’s the most surprising films that get attention. You never know how a film will come out until it’s done.
I am also a visual artist, which confuses people sometimes because I am very active in both worlds and disciplines. I believe both media influence one another.
W&H: How did you get your film funded? Share some insights into how you got the film made.
CM: I am very lucky to have been commissioned by the NFB to make this film. I believe commissioning filmmakers and artists is one of the greatest things to do: it helps their careers, gives them challenges and pushes their work. It should happen all the time!
W&H: Name your favorite woman-directed film and why.
CM: I am a real fan of French director Claire Denis. She explores themes of post-colonialism and gives commentary on modern society. I like how she directs her actors within a space. Her films are as much about sounds, textures, colors and compositions as broader thematic or social explorations. I am also a fan of the collaborations she’s done. It’s pretty impressive. She has worked with the band Tindersticks to create her soundtracks, film after film.