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Loretta Todd

Photograph of Loretta Todd

Director, Producer, Researcher and Writer

Loretta Todd
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Loretta Todd, born in Edmonton, Alberta, is an internationally acclaimed director and a writer of scholarly articles. In addition to having curated film programs at such prestigious film festivals as the Yamagata Documentary Festival, she has worked as a producer and researcher on many film and video projects. Through her films she endeavours to reach people emotionally, spiritually, physically, intellectually and mentally. Her love of her people and love of the land have motivated her filmmaking, in which she strives to convey that love to others. She believes that the role of the Aboriginal storyteller, film- and video maker continues to be defined.

As a result of a childhood filled with storytelling and art, and the realization that filmmakers use storytellers' tools, Todd understood the intricate correlation between images, emotion and craft. She enrolled in film school at Simon Fraser University in the late 1980s while employed full time by the federal government. At university she used her gift for writing and experimented with video. She learned the basics of working with film and made videos for Native organizations. These videos contained impressionistic footage, dramatic recreations and interviews that, at the time, represented a somewhat revolutionary technique. As the sole Native student (Todd is Métis/Cree), she used the camera to challenge the standards of ethnographic filmmaking and to reveal social inequalities.

Todd's earliest works combined drama with documentary:

  • Halfway House (1986), about a center for Native convicts released from prison.
  • Breaking Camp (1989) used three monitors to play a scene from John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964).
  • Robes of Power (1989) complemented an exhibit of ceremonial button blankets in Northwest Coast society.
  • Blue Neon (1989) began as an abstract experiment dealing with alcoholism.
  • The Storyteller in the City (1989) was an installation dealing with tales told to Native urban youth.
  • An installation set at the Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, was an attempt to bring to life the "dead feeling" of the museum and its sacred Native objects.
  • My Dad's DTs, an unfinished narrative film, was a 16 mm experimental drama about adult children of alcoholics.

In the 1990s Todd moved from experimental videos and installations to producing documentaries and feature films and essays. In her installation techniques she began examining some thought-provoking political issues.

The script Day Glo Wrestler (1990), produced by Omni Films for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), was eventually performed as a teleplay as part of the CBC series Inside Stories. She was also the scriptwriter for the Forefront production of The Healing Circle (1991).

Included among her output of videos during the early 1990s were Chronicles of Pride (1990), concerning role models in the Native community; Eagle Run (1990), dealing with Native athletics; and Taking Care of Our Own (1991), about foster parenting of Native children by Native families.

The Learning Path (1991), a residential schools documentary, combined historical and contemporary footage with recreated scenes. The film was commissioned as part of the series As Long as the Rivers Flow, produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Tamarack Productions. This was Todd's first major production as director, writer and narrator, garnering for her a Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival, the New Visionary Award at the Two Rivers Film Festival, and a Blue Ribbon at the American Film and Video Festival.

Her second NFB production, Hands of History (1994), is a documentary in which she, as writer and director, attempted to create the protocol of the Native circle. As in her other films, there is an honouring song at the beginning. The film pays tribute to four prominent female Native artists and deals with the nature and role of art-making and the artist in Native communities. There is no word for "art" or "artist" in most communities, but there is a word for people who tell stories, who make things and help people with their dreams.

Todd continued to direct videos for Native advocacy groups, addressing problems such as solvent abuse in No More Secrets (1996), and drawing attention to HIV/AIDS patients in Voice-Life (1995).

Writer-director Todd was nominated for a Genie Award (Best Short Documentary) for Forgotten Warriors (1997), her third NFB production, about Aboriginal veterans who enlisted and fought during the two world wars but whose contribution was never officially recognized. Many of the veterans had never gained the same benefits that returning non-Native veterans had, and some even lost their status.

Todd wrote, directed and produced Today is a Good Day (1999), a documentary video that includes archival footage and interviews. The work has been viewed at a number of festivals, among them the Taos Talking Picture Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, and the Vancouver Film Festival. At the Taos Festival she received the Taos Mountain Award for lifetime achievement.

Her influence extends beyond her films. In 1993 she produced the CBC series The Four Directions and helped to establish the Aboriginal Film and Video Arts Alliance, an organization that encourages Native filmmakers. Active in developing Aboriginal media through her company Eagle Eye films, her filmmaking and mentoring have led to the development of the Vancouver area as a center for Native film- and video-making.

In 1996 she was named a Rockefeller Fellow by the Center for Media, Culture and History at New York University. While in New York Todd wrote screenplays, lectured at various educational institutions and researched multimedia uses in museum exhibits representing Native culture.

She was recently in Paris developing her feature film WarSong, and has formed a new company with producer Jeff Bear to film the Canadian bestseller, Monkey Beach, by award-winning author Eden Robinson.

Loretta Todd's films have been viewed throughout the world, including at the Sundance Festival, the American Indian Festival, the Yamagata Documentary Festival, and the Museum of Modern Art. She has received prestigious honours: a Rockefeller Fellow, a Mountain Award at the Taos Talking Picture Festival and attendance at the Sundance Scriptwriters Lab, in addition to awards and citations from notable events such as the Hot Docs Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has served on various boards and committees, has had teaching experience and has been acknowledged for her perceptive writing and speaking on Aboriginal art and media matters.

Resources

Deadman, Patricia and Shelley Niro. "Interviews with Loretta Todd." The Canadian Journal of Native Studies. Vol. 18, no. 2, p. 336-348.

Bjornson, Michelle. "Making Documentary Films: Panel Discussion with Nicole Giguère, Brenda Longfellow, Loretta Todd, and Aerlyn Weissman." In Women Filmmakers: Refocusing. Edited by Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis, and Valerie Raoul. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002, p. 208-216.

Eisner, Ken. "Shadow and Light: First Nations Women Filmmakers." In Women Filmmakers: Refocusing. Edited by Jacqueline Levitin, Judith Plessis, and Valerie Raoul. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002, p. 394-397.

Hill, Richard William. "A Way of Imaging Film: In Conversation with Loretta Todd." Fuse. Vol. 23, no. 3 (Feb. 2001), p. 14-20.

Kalafatic, Carol. "Keepers of the Power: Story as Covenant in the Films of Loretta Todd, Shelley Niro, and Christine Welsh." In Gendering the Nation: Canadian Women's Cinema. Edited by Kay Armatage, et al. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, ©1999, p. 109-119.

Silverman, Jason. "Uncommon Visions: The Films of Loretta Todd." In North of Everything: English-Canadian Cinema since 1980. Edited by William Beard and Jerry White. Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, ©2002, p. 376-389.

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