May 6, 2021

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Hot Docs 2021 Female Director: Meet the Eli-Maiji Tailfathers – “Kommapiaipitsini: The Meaning of Empathy”

Eli-Maiji Telfiers is a writer, director, producer and actor. He is a member of the Kainai First Nation – Bloodfoot Confederation – Blyfoot Candidacy as well as Sammy of Norway. His documentary “Bihto” was selected by the Toronto International Film Festival as Canada’s Top Ten Shorts and won a Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Short at the Seattle International Film Festival. The Tailfathers won the Toronto Film Critics Association and the Vancouver Film Critics’ Circle Award for Best Story for the Toronto Film Critics Association, co-directed and co-directed by Telfathers and Hepburn. Canadian Screen Award for Best Direction and Best Original Screenplay.

The 2021 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival is showing “Commapiapitsini: The Meaning of the Empathy”, held April 29-May 9, the fest is digital this year due to COVID-19. Streaming Canada landlocked.

W&H: Describe the film in your own words.

EMT: “Kampapiyipitsini: The Meaning of Empathy” is a picture of the response to the blackfoot community’s opioid – or drug-poisoning – crisis, which spread over a four-year period. The film features frontline workers, people with active substance use disorders and people in recovery. I am very proud of Kainai and those who are contributing to this memorable effort to save lives.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

EMT: As a filmmaker and a member of the community, I feel a sense of responsibility and responsibility to document these fundamental changes and to honor the lives of those affected by this crisis. Compampiaipitsini – which means to be kind to one another – is a blackfoot lesson that reminds us that practicing empathy and compassion is how we survive as human beings.

How our ancestors survived the genocide, and how we as a community survived this crisis. Compampiaipitsini is our loss reduction.

W&H: What do people want to think after you watch the movie?

EMT: My community and many other indigenous communities are often created through tragedy and trauma monotony and diminishing lenses. I want to present non-indigenous audiences with a strong and beautiful community portrait that challenges this problematic presentation. I would like to provide other indigenous communities with a useful tool for dialogue to address similar issues.

Like everyone in the community, we have lost a family member in this family. I want to honor the lives of those who lost their lives to drug poisoning. They were people with hopes, dreams and aspirations. They had people who loved them and their death was preventable.

I want the audience to understand that people who have survived a substance abuse disorder should be treated with dignity and compassion. Their living experience is a valuable resource in finding solutions and they must be absolutely focused on this conversation.

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

EMT: My nation has about 14,000 members and everyone has a story to tell. It was incredibly challenging to narrow the range of voices in the film to about 50. Hundreds of people from my community took part in making this film with some power, many of whom appeared in front of the camera.

W&H: How did you finance your film? Share some insights about how you made the film.

EMT: The film is a co-production between my company CN Through Women Productions and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB). We have received support from the NFB; Hot Docs Crosschains funds both development and post-production through the Canada Dock Fund; And telefilm production and post-production funding through Indigenous Stream Canada.

W&H: What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

EMT: I started out as an actor 15 years ago and quickly realized that the mainstream film industry was dominated by white voices with little knowledge of the aborigines and our stories. I went back to university and in one of my indigenous studies courses, I was given the opportunity to submit a media project rather than a paper. I made a terrific documentary shot on camcorder and edited it on iMovie – and it changed the course of my life. The experience of having a narrative agency made me believe that I could make my own films.

W&H: What’s the best and worst advice you’ve ever received?

EMT: Best advice: My parents and grandparents are all very hardworking, passionate and kind people. All of them have taught me that hard work and kindness go a long way.

The worst advice: the only way to make a movie or tell a story.

W&H: What advice do you have for other female managers?

EMT: Work hard. Be kind Follow your intuition. Challenge Conference.

W&H: Name your favorite female-directed film and why.

EMT: The number of naming is too high! Here are some of my favorites: “Nepalistamoswin: We’ll Stand” by Tasha Hubbard; Ainslie Gardiner’s “Waru”, Cassie Ka, Renেই Maihi, Awanui Simich-Penny, Bryar Grace-Smith, Paula Wetu Jones, Chelsea Winstley and Katie Wolf; Becks Arhanga’s “Brothers”, Amberley Joe Aumua, Matasila Fresha Water, Diana Fuemana, Maria George, Afa Gutenbill-Likiliki, Marina Alofagia McCartney, Nicole Wippi and Sharon Hippie; Amanda Cornell writes “Sami Blood”; “Knight Riders” by Dennis Goulet – to which I am biased; “Angry Inuk” by Alethia Arnauk-Baril.

I like Alanis Omosamin literally anything, but “Kanhastake: 2270 Years of Resistance” is an essential philosophy. Other list of favorites includes Lisa Jackson’s “How People Survive”, “Lichen,” “Savage” and “Suckfarfish”; “Fast Horse” and “Lake” by Alexandra Lazarovich; “Enjuokamat” and “It’s Fiction-19” by Marja and Inger Bal Nango; Asinjak’s “Three Thousand”; Suvi West’s “Sparuabban”; “Êmîcêtôcêt: Many Bloodlines” by Theola Ross; Shandien Tom writes “soil (not hashtlination)”; Garrett Bradley’s “Time”; “Atlantic” by soil diop; And “Fish Tank” by Andre Arnold.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life during the Covid-1p epidemic? You’re keeping creative, and if so, how?

EMT: It really depends on the day. I miss my family and I miss home. I’m just trying my best to get over it and doing my utmost to accept that there is more to life and my identity than my work. My creative output should and should not be measurable to the extent of my qualifications.

W&H: The film world has a long history of portraying people of color on-screen and behind-the-scenes and reinforcing – and creating – negative stereotypes. What steps do you think you need to take to further integrate Hollywood and / or Dock World?

EMT: I’m tired of asking that question. “Inclusion” centers on the dominant voice. This influential voice needs to recognize that white supremacy, patriarchy, authoritarianism and the wealth of generation are very real managerial barriers for the rest of us. Influential voices need to move aside and give us the space, resources and respect we deserve to tell our own stories.