TORONTO – When married Montreal producers Catherine Bainbridge and Ernest Webb started making projects on Indigenous culture in the 1990s, they had a hard time getting mainstream attention.
“Back in the days, Indigenous-themed stories were of no interest to anybody except Indigenous people,” Bainbridge said in a recent interview, recalling their early films including “Okanada,” about the Oka Crisis in Quebec.
But as the recent success of their star-packed documentary “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” and their TV series “Mohawk Girls” shows, that level of interest is changing.
“We’ve been at it for a long time, and all of a sudden now people want to hear, which is so awesome,” said Bainbridge, a writer-director who co-founded Rezolution Pictures with Webb, who is Cree.
“I can’t tell you what a great turnaround is happening in our country. And I know it’s just the beginning and there’s so much to be done, and I don’t want to be falsely optimistic. There’s still tons of work to be done, decolonizing all our brains.
“But at least it’s started. We’re not going back.”
“Rumble,” helmed by Bainbridge and co-directed by Alfonso Maiorana, has gained much acclaim for its look at the often-unheralded Indigenous musicians who have shaped popular music.
On Sunday, the doc won three Canadian Screen Awards, including best feature-length documentary. It also won the World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Masterful Storytelling at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, and best Canadian documentary and audience prizes at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Meanwhile, the female-focused dramedy “Mohawk Girls” recently wrapped its fifth and final season on APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) after critical kudos and several Canadian Screen Award nominations during its run.
Bainbridge said Rezolution, whose credits also include the Gemini-and Peabody Award-winning film “Reel Injun,” has several new projects in the works.
Among them is a doc with the working title “What’s Up with White People,” about the North American systems of oppression and control that led to racial and social divides, racism and “white privilege.”
Bainbridge plans to direct and wants to explore the story in an entertaining way, potentially with musicians among the interviewees.
“That racism of white being ‘better,’ it’s a foundational thing of North America and white people don’t talk about it and we really have to,” Bainbridge said.
“We have to come to the table and be part of the conversation and understand what’s gone down. I want to mark the deliberate parts of it. They didn’t come out of nowhere and I want to figure it out and understand it in a loving way.”
The company’s other plans include “a big dramatic series” that’s in development, and a potential show about the Restigouche fishing community of New Brunswick.
Such stories had previously been hidden beneath generations of systemic and violent racism and oppression but are now coming to the surface, said Bainbridge.
“While there is a lot of trauma to deal with there, there’s also all this hidden beauty and the jewels of culture that we never got to see as a general culture. Those are what’s coming up, and that’s what ‘Rumble’ is about,'” she said.
“Native art and native culture, it’s rising above the cultural genocide across the board and people are now rising and expressing and understanding and speaking and decolonizing. All of that and that strength is creating incredible art.”