Lisa Jackson’s “Wilfred Buck” documentary premier at the Yorkton Film Festival

Yorkton, Saskatchewan – not exactly a metropolis, but come festival time, this small town morphs into a bustling hub of cinematic fervor. This year, the 77th Yorkton Film Festival hit an apex, and smack dab in the middle of it all was Lisa Jackson’s “Wilfred Buck.”

Picture the Painted Hand Casino Parkland Room, humming with anticipation and reverence. The crowd, a mix of filmmakers, cinephiles, and curious locals, was primed for an extraordinary journey through time and space.

(from Wilfred Buck documentary by Lisa Jackson)

Welcome to the debut feature documentary of Lisa Jackson, an Anishinaabe filmmaker (Aamjiwnaang) who’s been pushing film boundaries and redefining the landscape of Indigenous cinema in Canada since I’ve known her.

Setting the Scene

Yorkton during the festival is a sweet, authentic gathering of some of the most important figures in Canadian film. The town hums with a quiet excitement, and you can feel the anticipation in the air. This year’s festival, supported by national, provincial, and regional funders, promises to be a celebration of storytelling at its finest.

Opening night set the tone with a sold-out gallery and the buzz of upcoming events, like the much-anticipated Lobster Fest. Yorkton kicked off a festival that feels like a welcoming into the heartland living room of Canadian cinema.

The Screening of “Wilfred Buck”

Wilfred Buck” took center stage on Thursday, May 23, at 7 PM, in the Painted Hand Casino Parkland Room. The festival and the screening were sold out and all seats full with a dedicated and invested crowd, eager to witness the cinematic magic.

by Kris Krüg

The event kicked off with heartfelt introductions from festival organizers and key figures, including David McLeod from Native Communications Incorporated and Joanne McDonald, co-chair of the Yorkton Film Festival. They set the stage by thanking the funders and highlighting the enthusiastic community involvement.

It was a meaningful moment, with everyone in that room amped to witness a powerful story unfold on the big screen. The anticipation was real as the lights dimmed for “Wilfred Buck” to take center stage.

The Documentary: “Wilfred Buck”

(from Wilfred Buck documentary by Lisa Jackson)

At the core of this powerful film is Wilfred Buck, a Cree Elder from the Opaskwayak Cree Nation, recognized for his profound knowledge of Indigenous star lore. Jackson’s documentary doesn’t just tell Wilfred’s story; it confronts the systemic forces that tried to erase it.

(from Wilfred Buck documentary by Lisa Jackson)

Rather than sticking to conventional storytelling methods, the film skillfully blends archival footage, meticulously crafted reenactments, and striking cosmic imagery. This multi-layered approach defies the boundaries of traditional documentary filmmaking, demanding viewers to face the stark realities of colonial impact.

Over 90 gripping minutes, the film navigates Wilfred’s struggles with displacement, addiction, and marginalization, while highlighting his unyielding connection to the celestial realm.

by Kris Krüg

Wilfred’s journey to reclaim his ancestral star knowledge and ceremonial practices is a bold act of resistance against colonial erasure. “Wilfred Buck” doesn’t just celebrate cultural resilience; it challenges viewers to recognize and dismantle the colonial structures that necessitate such resilience.

This documentary is a call to action, urging us to honor and preserve Indigenous wisdom and traditions in the face of ongoing oppression.

“Beyond being blown away by such a massively creative and beautiful film, Lisa Jackson’s documentary ‘Wilfred Buck’ made me think about what is possible when Indigenous filmmakers are given a proper feature film budget and full creative freedom, allowing them to produce their films according to narrative sovereignty. This is exactly where we want the industry to go. Funding for the Indigenous Screen Office and investing in Indigenous filmmakers is one of the most important things the industry can do right now.”

Sarah Spring, Executive Director at Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC)

The Starwalker: Wilfred Buck’s Celestial Journey

(from Wilfred Buck documentary by Lisa Jackson)

Wilfred Buck is more than a storyteller; he’s a conduit for ancient star knowledge, guiding us across the cosmos. Born into a world hellbent on extinguishing his Indigenous flame, Wilfred’s early years were an uphill battle mired in displacement, racism, and loss. Yet, his spirit remained unbreakable, with roots planted deep in the lands that allowed him to blossom into a brilliant sage.

His portable planetarium is a revolutionary tool for reigniting the celestial heritage of young Indigenous minds. It’s a cosmic expedition decoding the stories written across the night sky, stories that their ancestors read like ancient manuscripts. As David McLeod of Native Communications attests, “Wilfred’s depth of passion carries people with him, opening doors to realms and connections most haven’t fathomed.”

(from Wilfred Buck documentary by Lisa Jackson)

From the ashes of colonial trauma emerged Wilfred’s unquenchable thirst for the star teachings his people narrowly survived having ripped away. He immersed himself in the wisdom of Elders, retracing the steps of his ancestors to reclaim their astral mythology. His journey became a healing salve, mending the disconnect by reminding his community that “no matter where they went, all they had to do was look at the sky and they were home.”

Wilfred’s starwalker’s odyssey is a defiant act against colonial erasure—spinning starry poetries to reawaken his tribe’s luminous origins. He is a modern mythos-weaver tracing ancient paths, shining light on the contemporary soul unmoored from its celestial birthright. Wilfred Buck is a visionary guardian of Indigeneity, ensuring that the star stories never fade from the skies again.

Lisa Jackson: A Revolutionary Filmmaker

Filmmaker Lisa Jackson

Lisa’s a revolutionary force in Indigenous storytelling. An Anishinaabe artist (Aamjiwnaang) with an MFA from York, her accomplishments include two Canadian Screen Awards and a Webby nomination. Her films have graced major festivals like Sundance, Tribeca and Berlinale, captivating global audiences.

Her latest work, “Wilfred Buck,” is a powerful blend of documentary realism and artistic expression, co-produced by her company Door Number 3 Productions, the National Film Board of Canada, and Clique Pictures. This deeply authentic, multilayered project took six years of relentless dedication and defiance of colonial narratives to bring to life.

Jackson excels at seamlessly weaving Indigenous perspectives with innovative techniques. “Wilfred Buck” showcases her extraordinary talent, providing profound insights into star knowledge and ancestral wisdom through the remarkable life of Cree Elder Wilfred Buck.

Starting with documentary roots, Jackson has fearlessly expanded into fiction, VR, animation, performance art, and even musicals. Her unique voice as a storyteller resonates through the critical acclaim and prestigious recognitions her boundary-pushing work has garnered.

For Jackson, illuminating Indigenous stories is a radical act of cultural reclamation and preservation. Her films are powerful counter-narratives to colonial histories, reclaiming space for Indigenous voices in the medium of cinema.

Unafraid to defy conventions and confront oppressive structures, Lisa Jackson is establishing herself as a leading revolutionary in contemporary Indigenous filmmaking, fighting fiercely to ensure that these essential stories are told with authenticity, respect, and an unwavering commitment to justice.

The Making of “Wilfred Buck”

(from Wilfred Buck documentary by Lisa Jackson)

The genesis of “Wilfred Buck” began in 2017 when Jackson first heard Wilfred’s name and was instantly intrigued. This curiosity led to a six-year collaboration, supported by the National Film Board of Canada. The film is a collaborative effort, bringing together a diverse team of artists and technicians, each contributing to its immersive experience.

One of the film’s striking aspects is its visual language. Using meteorite microscope imagery to depict star knowledge, Jackson creates a mesmerizing tapestry of light and sound. The music and sound design further enhance this experience, making “Wilfred Buck” not just a film but a ceremonial journey.

Jackson explains, “I wanted something visceral. If you don’t exactly know what you’re feeling, that’s a productive space to be. Different people should take different things from the same piece.”

Themes and Impact

“Wilfred Buck” takes viewers on a profound exploration of identity, cultural heritage, and the perseverance of Indigenous ways of knowing. Jackson deftly weaves together strands of Wilfred’s personal journey with the larger tapestry of Indigenous resilience and resistance. The film challenges audiences to grapple with their own connections to history, ancestry, and the cosmos.

For Indigenous viewers, the film serves as a reaffirmation of their rich cosmic heritage. For others, it cracks open a visionary window into the depth and beauty of Indigenous star knowledge – an often overlooked worldview. Jackson’s artful braiding of documentary and reenactment transports viewers into Wilfred’s profound relationship with the night sky and the ancient star stories.

by Kris Krüg

At its core, the film underscores the enduring importance of community, ceremony, and the oral tradition of storytelling as a vital means of cultural preservation and healing. As Joanne McDonald, co-chair of the Yorkton Film Festival, reflected, “Lisa Jackson’s unwavering dedication to authenticity and reciprocal community involvement is what sets her apart as a filmmaker. Her films don’t just tell important stories, they do so innovatively and with deep respect.”

Audience Reflections

The Yorkton Film Festival audience response to “Wilfred Buck” was profoundly moving. Many viewers were brought to tears by the film’s lyrical beauty and cosmic scope. Michelle Van Busycombe, CEO at Knowledge Network, marveled, “‘Wilfred Buck’ was such a powerful and immersive viewing experience. The storytelling felt intricately woven like a ceremonial tapestry, transitioning seamlessly between reenacted drama, observational documentary, and inspired experimental visuals.”

David McLeod, Head of Native Communications Incorporated, added “With her varied background and unique skillset, Lisa is truly leading the way in meeting the curiosity and growing hunger for authentic Indigenous narratives and knowledge-sharing. This film is a reminder that our stories have been inscribed in the stars since time immemorial.”

by Kris Krüg

The screening fostered a palpable sense of community and connection under a shared night sky – a space for diverse audiences to congregate and be immersed in the ancient, yet utterly contemporary insights of Wilfred Buck’s cosmos.

Looking Ahead: AI in Filmmaking

As the festival continued, the spotlight shifted to AI in filmmaking. On Friday, May 24, I joined fellow panelists Leif Kaldor and Janine Steele, moderated by Erin Mussolum, for a session titled “Unlocking the Cinematic Future: AI in Filmmaking.” We explored the transformative potential of AI tools in enhancing creativity and streamlining production processes.

AI isn’t here to replace filmmakers but to augment their creativity. From generative AI in scriptwriting to AI-driven editing and marketing, the possibilities are endless. Yet, these advancements come with ethical considerations – ensuring AI respects cultural narratives and maintains the integrity of storytelling.

Conclusion

This year’s Yorkton Film Festival was a testament to the evolving landscape of cinema. From the emotional depths of “Wilfred Buck” to forward-looking discussions on AI in filmmaking, it celebrated innovation, resilience, and the timeless power of stories.

Lisa Jackson’s “Wilfred Buck” is a journey through the cosmos, a reminder of our shared human experience, and an ode to the enduring power of cultural heritage. As we look to the future, let’s carry forward the lessons of the past, embracing new technologies while honoring the stories that define us.

In the words of Wilfred Buck, “The stars are our ancestors, and their stories are written in the sky.” Let’s continue to look up, remember, and tell these stories with the care and reverence they deserve.

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