Jeff Barnaby | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jeff Barnaby

Jeff Barnaby, writer, director, editor, composer (born 2 August 1976 in Listuguj Reserve, QC; died 13 October 2022 in Montreal, QC). Jeff Barnaby was a multitalented Mi’kmaq filmmaker who worked mainly in the horror genre. His award-winning films, such as Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013) and Blood Quantum (2019), are notable for incorporating gritty portrayals of Indigenous characters into stories with elements of science fiction, body horror and magic realism. Barnaby was a rising talent in Canadian and Indigenous cinema. He died of cancer at the age of 46.

Early Life

Jeff Barnaby was born and raised in the Mi’kmaq community of Listuguj (formerly known as Restigouche), located on the Gaspé Peninsula of Quebec, near New Brunswick.

When he was four years old, Barnaby witnessed a violent police raid on his community by the Sûreté du Québec. The police had been dispatched to the reserve to enforce a Quebec government order to restrict Indigenous salmon fishing, despite the fact that the Mi’kmaw fishers routinely caught less than either Quebec sport fishers who came to the area or the commercial fishers from other provinces. The police raid was documented by Alanis Obomsawin in the National Film Board (NFB) documentary Incident at Restigouche (1984).

Barnaby later stated that the documentary had a profound effect on him; that it awakened in him the realization that film could serve as a tool to achieve social justice. Barnaby also stated that some of his relatives were in the film, and that the police brutality he witnessed as a child was seared into his mind. In 2018, when he was making Blood Quantum — a science fiction-horror film about a Mi’kmaq community that discovers it is immune to a virus that turns people into zombies — he had the entire cast watch Obomsawin’s documentary.

Barnaby later studied film at Montreal’s Dawson College and at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University. He graduated from the latter in 2004 and continued to live and work primarily in Montreal.

Career Highlights

Jeff Barnaby’s first film credit was a 2003 music video for MC Mario. Barnaby’s first short film, From Cherry English, screened at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. His 2007 short film, The Colony, made the Toronto International Film Festival’s list of the year’s top 10 Canadian short films. File Under Miscellaneous, another short, was nominated for best live action short drama at the 2011 Genie Awards.

Barnaby’s first feature film, Rhymes for Young Ghouls (2013), tackles the legacy of residential schools, as the protagonist plots and executes revenge for the abuse she suffered there. The film was named Best Canadian First Feature at the Vancouver International Film Festival and earned Barnaby the Best Director award at the 2014 American Indian Film Festival. Barnaby followed that film with the 2015 NFB short Etlinisigu’niet (Bleed Down), which features music by Tanya Tagaq.

Barnaby’s last feature film, Blood Quantum, was released in 2019. The film was a lifelong project for Barnaby, who had begun work on the project 12 years earlier. It won seven Canadian Screen Awards and was also nominated for best original screenplay. Barnaby himself won the award for best editing. He was unapologetic about the content of the film, describing it as “100 per cent a Native zombie exploitation film.” The film’s theatrical release was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the film quickly grew in popularity thanks to streaming services. Barnaby pointed out that while many people thought the film was timely, given it had to do with a virus, it was in fact about the effects of colonialism on Indigenous communities. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 2020, Barnaby said: “The weird thing about being Native and making a comment on viruses in particular is the history of the pandemics and the colonization of America.” In the film, an Indigenous community that’s immune to a virus that is turning people into zombies must decide whether to let their community be a refuge to uninfected non-Indigenous people, weighing the threat to their community against the potential existential threat to all of humanity.

Throughout his career, Barnaby worked to present Indigenous characters in situations and settings that were outside the typical ways in which Indigenous people have been represented. He also worked to fight against Indigenous stereotypes. Because he focused on creating Indigenous films and centring Indigenous characters, Barnaby played an important role in developing Indigenous actors. In addition to writing, directing and editing his films, Barnaby was also a composer and scored most of his own films.

Personal Life and Death

Jeff Barnaby was married to the Navajo filmmaker Sarah Del Seronde, and together they had one son. Barnaby died in October 2022 at the age of 46 after a year-long battle with cancer.


imagineNative Film + Media Arts Festival

  • Best Canadian Short Drama (The Colony) (2007)
  • Drama Pitch Prize (Blood Quantum) (2007)
  • Best Indigenous Language Production (File Under Miscellaneous) (2010)


  • Shortwork Award (The Colony), Whistler Film Festival (2007)
  • Best Canadian First Feature (Rhymes for Young Ghouls), Vancouver International Film Festival (2013)
  • Best Director (Rhymes for Young Ghouls), American Indian Film Festival (2014)
  • Best Director of a Canadian Film (Rhymes for Young Ghouls), Vancouver Film Critics Circle (2014)
  • Achievement in Editing (Blood Quantum), Canadian Screen Awards (2021)