Every year, the Smithsonian hosts a film festival that celebrates linguistic diversity as part of its Recovering Voices Initiative. Now in its fourth year, the Mother Tongue Film Festival kicks off Thursday, February 21—International Mother Language Day—and features 62 languages in more than 20 films from 34 countries including Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Guam, and Bhutan. The festival is free and runs through Sunday, February 24 at locations across Washington, D.C. Preview a selection of the films below.
Sgaawaay K'uuna (Edge of the Knife)
In the first feature-length Haida film, Edge of the Knife tells a story of pride, tragedy, and penance. The film draws its name from a Haida saying, “the world is as sharp as a knife,” reminding us as we walk along we have to be careful not to fall off one side or the other. Set in the 19th century against the backdrop of the rainforest and storm-ravaged Pacific coast of Haida Gwaii, the film is an adaptation of one of Haida’s most popular stories, sustained over the years through song and performance. After tragedy strikes, young Adiits’ii becomes Gaagiixiid/Gaagiid ‐ the Haida Wildman. Stranded and struggling for survival, Adiits’ii’s humanity gives way to a more bestial state, while the community struggles with conflicting emotions upon returning to the site where he was last seen. Both a timeless story and a contemporary allegory for the Haida Nation, the film was envisioned as a way to support Haida language, a critically endangered language spoken fluently by fewer than 20 people, and promote Haida culture by bringing an ancient Haida story into a new space using the medium of film.
Edge of the Knife won Best Canadian Film at the 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival and Canada’s Top Ten at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
Young Gisa travels to the village of Nkora, native to his mother who disappeared during the Rwandan genocide. He finds himself at the center of a family conflict over the fate of the house his mother built. Caught between the contradictions of a changing society, Gisa, who is almost the same age as the new Rwanda, seeks to rediscover his share of the collective memory of a past that belongs to him but is also so far away.
Imfura won the Silver Bear Jury Prize at Berlinale 2018, the Alexis Award for Best Emerging Student Filmmaker at the 2018 Palm Springs International ShortFest, the Jury Award Best Film at the 2018 Afrykamera African Film Festival, and Best Short Film at the 2018 Luxor African Film Festival.
Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes)
Carrying out the traditions of his Anishinaabe forbearers, young Biidaaban harvests sap from sugar maples in urban Ontario neighbourhoods. Accompanied by Ghost Wolf, Ghost Caribou, and shape-shifter Sabe, Biidaaban works to transcend the barriers placed by non-Anishinaabe settlers in their people’s traditional lands. In doing so, they raise issues about who owns the trees and land.
Biidaaban won the Cynthia Lickers-Sage Award for Best Short Work at the 2018 ImagineNative and Canada’s Top Ten at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.