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Thirza Cuthand Retrospective

Indigiqueer Canadian filmmaker experiments with language, and radically questions the division between art and everyday life - from the Native Spirit Festival

Thirza Jean Cuthand was born in Saskatchewan and grew up in Saskatoon, and she is of Cree origin. Starting in 1995, Cuthand began exploring short experimental narrative videos and films about sexuality, madness, youth, love, and race, using national, sexual and Indigenous experiences to showcase in unfiltered raw exteriors.

Make no mistake, there is purity at play here. Collecting the confines, conditions and contractions of Cuthand’s milieu, the varied works slip together into one continuous narrative written years, even decades, apart. More to the point, the essays cross genres from the pointedly visual into the realms of performance arts.

In a life’s work, we are testimonies to a great becoming of life, love and failings, fearlessly guiding the wills and witnesses of expectations over a twenty four year story. The feelings, frailities and failures are true of all our lives, but Cuthand has the courage and power to be real about them. In a peerless recall of honesty, the collected works speak so mournfully with a communal power absent even in Richard Linklater’s extraordinary Boyhood (2014). Though they could be easily overlooked, the works radically question the everyday division between the artful and the mundane. In an art form traditionally more recondite than visual, Cuthand’s work sprawls through ages, genres and documentaries.

Early clips use archive footage of films and puppetry, playfully positing the questions of truthfulness from the companionship Disney princesses traditionally have provided women. Detailed in black and white, Helpless Maiden Makes an ‘I’ Statement (1999) finds a subject discussing the frustrations of a bottom position. Bravely opening the chartered path of self discovery, the narrative continues in the striking Just Dandy (2013), an essay of entrapment read through a diary. Performances play with ease, ebullient in energised ease as the author describes her innermost thoughts at a talk more potently lit in colour.

Then there’s 2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com (2017), opening and centred on the butch director in the flirtatious pose which too often stamps itself on pornographic websites. From the confines of these video-confessionals, the films progress narratively and thematically in evolving the woman’s body from the shaded to the candid. In its own way, it’s a riff on the inhibitions a person feels in their comfort’s both in their naked thoughts and naked bodies. In their way, the audience grows in confidence with the naked exteriors with the subjects. Reclamation (2018, pictured at the top), the fieriest entry, imagines a dystopic future in Canada after massive climate change, wars, pollution, and the palpable consequences of the large scale colonial project which has now destroyed the land. Visually inventive, the majority of the short films focus mostly on the experiences which the audience members find themselves longing to hear.

Topics and themes also explore the sadomasochistic lesboerotic subtexts in children’s entertainments, the temporal horrors migraine blindness inflicts and the dismal loneliness a young lesbian must endure in a Canadian school. Added to that the realities of an everyday struggle, the essays explore the different worlds an Indigenous person must walk. It’s not so different, yet completely different, to the worlds everyone else inhabits. A revelation of a series.

In addition to the short films listed above, the Thirza Cuthand Retrospective also includes the following pieces: Lessons in Baby Dyke Theory (1995), Sight (2012), 2 Spirit Introductory Special $19.99 (2015), Thirza Cuthand is an Indian Within the Meaning of the Indian Act (2017) and the more recent Less Lethal Fetishes (2019). The event takes place on October 13th at the Horse Hospital as part of the 13th Native Spirit Festival. Just click here for more information, and in order to get your tickets now!

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