Alexandra Lazarowich - The Power of Indigenous Traditions Sofia Piven interviewed the indigeneous filmmaker Alexandra Lazarowich, highlighting North American traditions
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Alexandra Lazarowich - The Power of Indigenous Traditions

Sofia Piven interviewed the indigeneous filmmaker Alexandra Lazarowich, highlighting North American traditions

After the end of Sundance 2019, which has presented a large number of new talented directors, CineSud Magazine received the brilliant opportunity to talk to Alexandra Lazarowich - a Cree filmmaker from Canada. Today she is telling us about her passion of telling indigenous stories, her experience of participating in various residencies and the subtlety of making her award-winning film Fast Horse.

"I decided to become a director as I did not like the roles I was auditioning for, mostly because at that time the only possible role for a young indigenous girl was dressing up in a buckskin and shooting a bow and arrow."

14 mei 2019

Background

Alexandra Lazarowich is a Cree (one of the largest groups of First Nations in North America) from Northern Alberta. Alexandra used to be an actress from her childhood until her twenties, so the Canadian director always knew she wanted to connect her life with filmmaking. She remembers: “I decided to become a director as I did not like the roles I was auditioning for, mostly because at that time the only possible role for a young indigenous girl was dressing up in a buckskin and shooting a bow and arrow.” Therefore Alexandra told herself that she must quit playing such stereotypical roles and become a filmmaker which would be able to express her own vision on cinematography. When she was growing up, she never saw people who looked like her in films or on television. Alexandra wanted to make her own movies to be shown on a big screen in order to fill this void, representing aboriginal people who resemble her and, furthermore, prove to the modern public that indigenous people can also do other things.

Despite not having professional education in the sphere of filmmaking, Alexandra is a very successful director nowadays who has already managed to work on about eight films, such as Rights for Indian Women, Out of Nothing, Cree Code Talker and others.

Watch some of Alexandra's movies for free!

It is possible to watch some of Alexandra’s movies for free online: Cree Code Talker, Crooked Creek, Alvaro and Fast Horse.

Participation in residencies

Alexandra Lazarowich has participated in numerous residencies and each one provided a different and unique experience. A residency is a special event which is usually held during film festivals where directors can learn from industry experts and be engaged in hands-on workshops. Skills training and career advancement are the main goals of the residency. The Canadian filmmaker comments: “I think residencies help you build a body of work, connect you with people within the industry you are working in and expose you to new kind of work.” Each residency is diverse, and from Alexandra’s point of view it is the job of directors to keep learning and expanding their experience and knowledge as artists. This is a valuable part of a residency. She persistently advises other directors, not only new filmmakers but also the skilled ones, to attend various residencies as often as possible, because it is a perfect opportunity for them to meet collaborators and build long term relationships with them while at the same time expanding their field of work.

Working for the museum

Alexandra also used to work as a Creative Director for the Royal Alberta Museum. The cooperation with the museum was finished in December 2017. The young director says that creating audio and video elements for the museum’s new Human History wing was a unique experience. Moreover, it was an honor for Alexandra to be involved in the work for the indigenous communities from the first nations in Alberta such as Blackfoot, Cree, Chipewyan, Den, Sarcee, and Stoney.

Fast Horse

Fast Horse is the most recent film of the Canadian director which was highly estimated by a big number of festivals worldwide, as for instance by imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival and Sundance 2019. The film follows the return of the Blackfoot horse racing tradition called the Indian Relay. It is a race about one rider, three horses and horsemanship. The main challenge of the game is to be the first one to finish three rounds while having to change the horse after the end of each round.

The film is a documentary which follows the team Old Sun (from the Siksika Nation) and its representatives Allison RedCrow, the horseman, and Cody BigTobacco, the jockey, as they competed in the Indian Relay at the 2017 and 2018 Calgary Stampede. This sport requires a dedicated team. Both its members and horses must have a perfect stamina and physical education. There are no specific criteria regarding which horses are selected for the race, it all depends on the team. Nevertheless, creating a team of horses is a skill that takes years of experience.

Such a kind of sport is considered to be dangerous. However, the young filmmaker thinks that danger is present in all sports. According to Alexandra, what is exciting about Indian Relay is that it is starting to become popular in other indigenous communities across North America ignited by the passion of indigenous youth. During the race, accidents can easily happen (as one can see in one scene from the movie in which Cody falls down because of another participant of the race, which actually becomes the main reason of his losing), but safety is the biggest concern the teams really care for. Alexandra says: “It’s quite difficult to say precisely how Cody felt at that moment of defeat, but he was tough, so he was able to get back up which is an important message of the film. To be resilient and keep trying.”

Alexandra had an amazing team of cinematographers: Daron Donahue, Aaron Munson, Sergio Olivares and Craigery Dennis. She tells CineSud Magazine: “These people were able to capture all the beautiful moments of our film in spite of the difficulties related to the shooting of horses, as they were always in motion. I am grateful to them for their commitment and passion for the project. The film has surpassed our biggest expectations and we could not be more thrilled than we are now. ”

Sundance 2019

Remembering her attendance at the U.S. Film Festival Sundance 2019 Alexandra Lazarowich mentions that it is an amazing festival which offered her a great experience. It was her first time premiering at Sundance so it was truly a big surprise for the whole crew to win an award. Alexandra says: “I don't know why our film was picked out of all the other amazing films at Sundance this year, but I will say we made the film we wanted to make, a film that made the audience feel like they were participating in the relay, to give the audience an immersive experience.” The director also made this film so that she could create a hero for her indigenous nieces and nephews to see on the big screen, to see themselves reflected back. She points out that they were very lucky that Allison and Cody allowed the film crew to go on this incredible journey with them.

More on Alexandra?

To find some more information about Alexandra Lazarowich and her work, you can check her website here.

Over de auteur: Sofia Piven

Sofia Piven is currently studying Journalism and International Relations at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv. She has always been interested in writing articles and after finishing school and entering the university she wrote for local newspapers and magazines. Since January 2018 she regularly writes articles for CineSud magazine.

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