TIFF 2021 | Night Raiders: A dystopian colonial nightmare

By James Mackin

Canada has an ugly, colonial legacy. For several centuries, the nation’s major institutions managed a residential school system that forced Indigenous children out of their homes in an attempt to kill their culture and their heritage. Night Raiders is a film that imagines a future in which this never ends.

Night Raiders is a Canadian film, and it’s the feature debut of Danis Goulet, a filmmaker of Cree and Metis descent. It stars Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers (from the Body Remembers When the World Broke Open) and Brooklyn Letexier-Hart (from Burden of Truth) as a mother and daughter living in a dystopian future. There’s been a devastating war, and large chunks of the population are living in ghettos surviving off rations brought in by drones. All children are forced to live in state academies, where they’re trained in military style drills and sleep in cage-like rooms. Upon graduation, they becomes citizens of this new nation.

However, anyone living with a child outside of this system is committing a crime in the nation’s eyes, including Niska (Tailfeathers) and Waseese (Letexier-Hart). Niska loses her daughter to one of these academies, and ends up discovering a group of Indigenous people living in the bush, off the land and away from the imperialist government. They believe she is a guardian who will save their children, and take them north, far away from this nation. But all Niska wants is to get her daughter back.

If there is one film you see at TIFF this year, this should be the one. Danis Goulet says that part of the appeal of creating a genre film about Canada’s history of residential schools and Indigenous oppression is that it can exist as a warning. She says “the film is obviously an allegory for residential schools, it was really important for me to express and explore the impact of these colonial legacies on Indigenous families.”

In Night Raiders, it’s not specifically Indigenous children who are taken. But the group leading the resistance against is Indigenous. Predominantly filled with Cree people, they live in the bush by their own laws, their own way of life. They are leading the fight against the colonial powers. Goulet says the main message of the film is “how important it is to fight for the future that we want to see come to pass.” It’s only through protest and fighting that the end of oppression can begin.

As for the film’s two stars, Tailfeathers says she personally identified with the film, as will most Indigenous people. Numerous generations of her family had gone to residential schools. Of her character, Tailfeathers says “Niska represents so many Indigenous women that I know, and her fight to get her daughter back is a story that needs to be honoured on screen.”

Letexier-Hart adds that the film’s material was tough, but through “emotional bonding with (Elle)-Máijá before filming,” she was prepared to work with the heavy material. Tailfeathers also added she was very proud of Letexier-Hart for handling such intense material. “It was tough to be in that institution, and to see the set design, and to know that it was so close to reality was.”

Why the film works so well is because of its commitment to genre. Right from the opening scene, with a discussion on the differences of werewolves and vampires, this film shows that it understands the language and style of horrors, thrillers and sci-fi. By employing these tropes, Night Raiders creates an entertaining film that all can watch and get involved in. Similar to the films of Jeff Barnaby (a Mi’kmaq director who made revenge thriller Rhymes for Young Ghouls and zombie film Blood Quantum, which also stars Tailfeathers), this film can entertain and inform.

Mark my words; in the years to come, this will go down in history as one of the best Canadian films of the 21st century. You’ve got to check this one out!

Stay tuned to 680 NEWS for more coverage on TIFF 2021!


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