Todd, Loretta

Loretta Todd, documentary filmmaker, installation artist, essayist (b at Edmonton circa 1963). A central figure in what might be considered the second wave of aboriginal directors, Todd brings insight, discipline, resistance to sentimentality and a sense of adventurousness to her non-fiction films. Todd combines standard techniques - interviews, archival and verité-style footage - with atmospheric, inventive elements of her own creation. As such, Todd's films owe as much to the documentary mavericks Errol Morris and Werner Herzog, whose films often experiment with form and style, as to Alanis Obomsawin and Phil Lucas, who from the 1960s to the 1980s helped establish aboriginal cinema as a distinctive movement. In the 1990s, Todd's combination of narrative rigour and stylistic experimentation helped expand perceptions of what an aboriginal film should look or feel like.

As a child, Todd recognized the power of the moving image as a storytelling medium. While watching F.W. Murnau's 1922 horror classic Nosferatu at age seven, she said she "began to understand that filmmakers used the tools of storytellers, which appealed to my Cree love of craft." The movies also offered Todd a sense of possibility and escape. She describes her childhood as filled with artmaking and storytelling, but marked by poverty and the alcoholism of her father (a subject she explored in her early short My Father's DTs). Todd left home at age 12 and during the next 10 years learned to support both herself and an infant daughter. At 18, Todd enrolled at a community college, where she quickly discovered her gifts as a writer, theorist and videomaker.

At Simon Fraser University in the late 1980s, Todd studied with theorist Kaja Silverman, experimental filmmaker Al Razutis and cinematographer John Houtman and soon began creating ambitious, formally innovative video installation works that reflected on her tribal identity and on the historical struggles of aboriginal peoples. One installation featured images projected onto Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology; with a long tracking shot, Todd set out to "liberate" sacred tribal objects entombed within.

Todd's first full-length documentary, The Learning Path (1991), combines harrowing first-person testimonials of Canadian residential-school survivors with ghostly, atmospheric re-enactments. Hands of History (1995) provides a brisk, playful portrait of four women artists, and Forgotten Warriors (1996), which was nominated for a Genie award, remembers the World War II soldiers who risked their lives overseas only to return to find their land confiscated. Today is a Good Day (1999) takes a more standard biographic approach to the story of the actor Chief Dan GEORGE, and Kainayssini Imanistaisiwa: The People Go On (2003) explores the repatriation of Native artifacts. Todd's work has been recognized with lifetime achievement awards at the ImagineNATIVE and Taos Talking Picture festivals, and she has participated at the Sundance Writers Lab.

Though her films often explore sensitive issues, Todd typically forgoes the simple emotional button-pushing that has marred other explorations of indigenous history and culture. "So many times when non-Native people hear about aboriginal experiences, what we have had to endure," she said in 2000, "they just shut down; I wanted to open up the viewers' minds and hearts (through) poetry and lyricism and art ... I wanted them to see these stories in ways they hadn't seen them before, experience them in ways they hadn't experienced them before."