Atikamekw Suns (Chloe Leriche, 2023) Canada


Reviewed by Sebastian Muniz-Massa. Reviewed at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Soleils Atikamekw’ or ‘Atikamekw Suns’ directed and produced by Chloé Leriche, is a docudrama shedding light on a small fraction of the pain of indignity in the modern world. Produced by Leriche herself, the film  received funding fromQuebec’s Société de développement des entreprises culturelles in 2019, as well as Tellefilm Canada in 2020. Thestory was developed and written by Leriche, however its contents are a tragedy all too real for the Atikamekw people, a First Nation community of Manawan. Many of the actors in the film had relation, either familial or otherwise, to the victims of the gruesome murders that took place in 1977; now they relieve that history in hopes of bringing awareness to the case itself, as well as advocating for more protections for native peoples inCanada. As we find out in the film, the case has been disregarded by the

Quebec police, though there is much evidence of neglect and mishandling of the case. I had the honor of meeting one of the actors, Oshim Ottawa, who plays his grandfather who initially found and identified the bodies of his close friends and family on that fateful day. To hear his family’s story and to learn about his place within it, allowed for my own spirit to reach out and connect solemnly.

The film centers on the Atikamekw community and the murder of 5 of their loved ones. Depicting the events that took place before and after, demonstrating how the true nature of their deaths were disregarded by local police and how the men responsible were never brought to justice. This is a tale all too common for indigenous people everywhere who are often mistreated and disregarded by local and national agencies and governments. ‘Atikamekw Suns’ uses a hybrid style to represent the heartache and surreal nature of the situation, mixing documentary style narration by the families of the victims as well as dramatic reenactment of the events themselves. The use of tandem storytelling, between reality and narrative, felt fitting and justified for a story about native people, who’s history is often told through oral tradition and incorporates spirituality into the fabric of events that occurred. The goal of which is to tell history through cautionary tales intertwined with a commitment and respect toward the emotional component of the past. We see this magical realism style used by Lerich to tell the story and perhaps assist in coping with the pain that these people feel so deeply; the frustration they exude over a corrupt system that still continues to deny any prejudice or bias to this day. When speaking to Oshim, through the curated Q&A after the film’s screening, I had the opportunity to ask what it was like to attempt to heal through this family trauma while simultaneously living it as he portrayed his grandfather’s  pain. In his response to my question he talked about growing up with the silence surrounding what had happened, and how the pain of the situation was so great that his family rarely, if ever, talked about it. He spoke about learning almost all of the details while filming, and how the production process itself became a place of communal healing and acknowledgement. These extreme emotions are embedded in the fabric of the film, the emotions raw and unfiltered. It is truly a combination of historical reenactment and the bleak reality that still haunts the Atikamekw community today. The ability for Leriche to incorporate spirituality through her use of discontinuity and surrealistic narrative style, seems like the most sensical homage to pay to the Atikamekw people as she tells their story. The use of lowkey and natural lighting binds us to the weight of the subject matter so we feel every bit of sorrow and anger, hopefully serving as a call to action for most who watch this necessarily gut wrenching film.

Many films like ‘Atikamekw Suns’ are cropping up all over the world, and rightfully so. For too long indigenous voices have been silenced and their stories vanish into the void, but now with the rise of independent filmmaking and the accessibility of such to make visually impeccable films, we are seeing their stories told with new vigor. For so long the Indian has been portrayed as a savage and a plight on the western will, when in reality it is white colonizers that have ravaged, desecrated and genocided an entire people. The old westerns of the 50s and 60s were an amalgamation of propaganda and miseducation of the western world in order to justify the usurpation of native land. Now as we wake up to these atrocities and more and more people begin to acknowledge them, more recognition is brought to native peoples and the issues that they still continue to face after hundreds of years of mistreatment. This story specifically takes place in 1977, and it reminds me of another amazing and sad film that is garnering respect from the academy as well as film organizations across the world; Killers of the Flower Moon directed by Martin Scorsese. Although the people in these films are drastically different and their stories independent from one another, the parallels cannot be denied. If anything it exhibits a pattern of horrific actions committed against native people over generations and across borders. I hope to see more creative and non-traditional ways of telling these specific stories so that change can come of them, and so that those who still deny native peoples of their pain, can no longer look away.

Atikamekw Suns’ is one of the most important stories being told, cinematically or otherwise. Its commitment to telling the story of the Atikamekw people and the hardships they have faced and endured, is necessary and will hopefully inspire others to follow suit. More indigenous stories must be told, especially at such a crucial time for intersectionality and the global fight for justice. With so many native peoples facing oppression and extinction, it is the responsibility of storytellers across the world to assist in promoting native histories so that they too are not lost to the void of capital and colonial domination. And with such, comes new ways of creating and depicting narratives, as we see with ‘Atikamekw Suns’ . It is only natural that as we begin to incorporate different cultures, the ways we tell stories becomes altered. No longer being dominated by white Anglo-saxon agendas and viewpoints, but rather painting a more realistic and fuller picture of humanity. As the gates open for independent filmmakers to tell the important, underserved and misrepresented stories, the marginalized populations of the world will come to the forefront of modern media.

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