Film finds focus on Canada’s colonization roads through a lighthearted light


Michelle St. John and Ryan McMahon used Fort Frances, Ontario’s Colonization Road as a metaphor for the displacement and dispossession of Indigenous people in Canada. THE PROJECTOR/ Kelsey James


For Ryan McMahon and Michelle St. John, stories of racism and reconciliation are told using comedy.

Colonization Road, director St. John’s new documentary, played at Cinematheque on Jan. 6. The film follows Anishinaabe, Métis activist and comedian McMahon as he explores his hometown of Fort Frances – where one of many colonization roads are – and reflects on Canada’s colonial history and displacement of indigenous peoples.

“It’s hard to digest this kind of information without a little humour because it can be dry,” St. John said. “I think being able to structure and support it with comedy makes it a little easier to hear.”

During a question and answer period following the documentary, McMahon expressed a similar outlook.

“I think that laughter, while it certainly has helped us through the last 150 years, goes much deeper into our own world view, into our teachings and into our ways of being,” McMahon said. “I think it’s inherent to who we are.”

The Decolonizing Lens is a monthly Winnipeg film and discussion series based out of the University of Manitoba’s Women’s and Gender Studies department. It features the work of indigenous filmmakers.

“Films so far have touched on a wide variety of subjects,” said Jocelyn Thorpe, one of the series’ organizers. “It is important for the series to address the histories and legacies of colonialism, but also celebrate the creativity, intelligence, and talent of filmmakers and the communities they depict.”

To apply a decolonizing lens in everyday life, Thorpe said we must read, listen, watch, and learn from indigenous communities.

“There is no one ‘indigenous perspective,’ but non-indigenous people have spoken for far too long on behalf of indigenous people,” Thorpe said. “Think about what you are consuming, what perspective it’s coming from and what ideas about indigenous peoples it reinforces or challenges.”

The Decolonizing Lens is now six screenings into the series and will continue until March 2018. Next month’s event, scheduled for Feb. 13, will feature a program of animated short films, including those by Winnipeg-based filmmakers Jackie Traverse and Warren Cariou.

For those interested in watching Colonization Road, CBC will be airing it on Jan. 26.