According to The Hollywood Reporter, Canadian Indigenous filmmaker Jeff Barnaby has passed away following a year-long struggle with cancer. He had been battling the disease. He died at the age of 46 years old.
Barnaby received the award for Best Director of a Canadian Film from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle for his debut feature film, “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” which he directed in 2013. “Rhymes for Young Ghouls” is a blood-soaked revenge drama that is about Canada’s abusive Indian residential schools.
2019 saw the release of his second full-length film, titled “Blood Quantum.” The movie is a combination of a zombie horror story and a critique of colonialism. In it, native people are protected from an outbreak of the undead.
It was honoured with six honours at the Canadian Screen Awards and is regarded as one of the most successful zombie films produced in recent years.
In an official statement, Jeff Barnaby’s friend, the actress Kawennáhere Devery Jacobs, referred to him as:
“Beautifully stubborn ’til the very end, Jeff Barnaby was bold in his life and his work,” Jacobs, who is currently starring in “Reservation Dogs,” got his start in the industry thanks to Barnaby. “He bore a sensitivity, poignancy and depth within him that translated through his films and resonated with audiences Indigenous and non-Native alike.”
It is impossible to place an adequate amount of emphasis on Barnaby’s artistic vision or his support for Indigenous storytelling. Let’s take a moment to remember a director whose life was cut tragically short.
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His Role in the Indigenous Cinema
In the Canadian province of Quebec, Jeff Barnaby spent his childhood in the Mi’gmaq hamlet of Listuguj. He became interested in cinema at an early age and spent his childhood watching films such as “Conan the Barbarian,” “Blade Runner,” and “Predator,” as well as Canadian films such as “Léolo” and “Rabid” by David Cronenberg.
Barnaby developed his skills as a filmmaker first at Dawson College in Montreal and subsequently in the Cinema Program at Concordia University.
Barnaby crafted a one-of-a-kind approach to filmmaking by combining his formal studies, his lifelong passion for genre movies, and his Indigenous heritage.
According to the official statement that was distributed to the press, “Jeff Barnaby redefined Indigenous cinema by injecting elements of magic realism, body horror, and sci-fi into Indigenous stories,” “He never would have called his films Indigenous Futurism, but his films invented the genre.”
He never would have called his films Indigenous Futurism.” Barnaby directed the short films “From Cherry English,” “The Colony,” “File Under Miscellaneous,” and “Etlinisigu’niet (Bleed Down)” in addition to helming his two feature-length movies.
Persistent to Adapt Indigenous Stories for the Big Screen
Barnaby was adamant in his pursuit to bring Indigenous narratives to the big screen, whether it was to shed light on the horrors of Indian residential schools or to draw attention to the Mi’gmaq language.
According to a piece written by Jeff Barnaby’s friend and producer John Christou, “Jeff Barnaby’s films changed Canada, and played an outsize role in advancing the cultural and political imperative to reconcile with Indigenous peoples,”.
“My greatest hope is that the next generation of Indigenous filmmakers will pick up the torch and honour his legacy by being equally uncompromising in the realisation of their vision,” you may paraphrase this as “My greatest hope is that the next generation of Indigenous filmmakers will pick up the torch and honour his legacy by being equally uncompromising in the realization of their vision.”
Barnaby will be sadly missed for all the positive contributions he made to the cinema of Canada and Indigenous peoples, as well as genre films.