Danis Goulet may have won the 2021 TIFF Emerging Talent Award, but the Cree–Métis director isn’t a new name in the film world. Goulet is the former artistic director of the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto, and the creator of several acclaimed short films, including 2013’s Wakening. Her debut feature film Night Raiders, released in October 2021, is a dystopian sci–fi thriller about forced family separation, based on Canada’s residential schools. We spoke to Goulet about how Indigenous films are finally finding their place, why she chose sci–fi and where in Canada she loves returning to most.
Danis Goulet’s female–driven dystopian drama opened late last year with the widest theatrical release ever for an Indigenous Canadian filmmaker.
enRoute How has the landscape changed for Indigenous filmmakers over the past decade?
Danis Goulet In the early 2000s when we went into rooms and said that we wanted to have Indigenous content told by Indigenous people, we were often met with either silence or confusion. We’re now seeing an explosion of new Indigenous work coming out into the world, and it’s thanks to years of advocacy by many in the Indigenous screen community fighting for opportunities and resources.
ER Is sci–fi something you have been interested in for a while?
DG As a genre, sci–fi offers the freedom to talk about something important while also taking the audience on a thrilling ride. Night Raiders is based on real things that happened because of colonization – it’s an allegory for the residential school system and the impact of smallpox. There are tons of sci–fi nerds in Indigenous communities, and I felt that maybe this would be a new way of speaking to them and creating a sense of ownership about these stories.
ER Did you look to other filmmakers for inspiration when directing Night Raiders?
DG Yes – the great Alanis Obomsawin, who is the queen of the activist documentary and grandmother of Indigenous cinema in Canada. I was also influenced by British social realist directors like Andrea Arnold – she’s a complete genius. Another touchstone for this film was Alfonso Cuarón’s masterpiece Children of Men, which is set in a near–future dystopia that reaches only slightly beyond current times.
ER How did New Zealand actor/director Taika Waititi come to be involved with the movie?
DG The global Indigenous film community is really interconnected and has been meeting up at festivals around the world for years. I first met Taika at Sundance in 2004 and we have been friends ever since. When it came time to make Night Raiders, I asked him if he would be an executive producer – and he said yes.
ER When you return from shooting around the world, where in Canada do you love returning to most?
DG I’m from La Ronge, Saskatchewan, which is a town on a lake in the boreal forest. Nothing beats it, it’s so beautiful. My grandmother lived in the Okanagan Valley, so it also has a special place in my heart. We went there every summer, and, on the way, that drive between Calgary and Banff when the mountains hit you is spectacular.