Maureen Caudron-Bell pulling ice fishing net under Lesser Slave Lake. Shot on Super 16mm. // Lindsay McIntyre

Cree director documents the reality of Indigenous women’s work for Five Feminist Minutes

Directed by Alexandra Lazarowich; The National Film Board of Canada’s Five Feminist Minutes 2019.

Born and raised in Edmonton, Cree director Alexandra Lazarowich recently received recognition for her short documentary Fast Horse—about an Indian Relay team competing at the Calgary Stampede. The film earned her the Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing at Sundance. She is also one of the filmmakers who was invited to participate in the National Film Board (NFB) of Canada’s Five Feminist Minutes 2019. 

The Five Feminist Minutes series was originally produced in 1990 by Studio D, which was the world’s first all-woman production unit. To celebrate its 80th anniversary, the NFB invited four filmmakers to contribute new works to the series. Lazarowich’s film is Lake, which not only picks up on the series, but offers a throwback to the original NFB style.

“I’ve always had this idea of sort of documenting Indigenous people in the North, because my family is from the Lesser Slave Lake area and I think a part of documentation is showing the modern and old traditions that people are doing in a contemporary context,” Lazarowich says. 

“So for a long time I’ve been pitching to do a process film shot on 16-millimeter film, sort of in a throwback style to the original NFB films that were done in the ’50s, and the ’60s, and the ’70s.”

Unfortunately, her pitch for Lake was not met with resounding enthusiasm, until Coty Savard—who was associate producer at the North West Studio at the time, and has since been promoted to producer—reached out to Lazarowich asking her if she had any ideas for a film.

“So I sent it over to her and they said yes,” she says.

The film had an all-Indigenous female crew, as well as an Indigenous female editor, and is about two Métis women doing commercial net ice fishing on Lesser Slave Lake.

Lazarowich says she was inspired to make the film because she has close connections to the area and ice fishing “is an integral part of living in the winter in the North.”

“I just think it’s such a unique and amazing thing that these two women are ninth generation commercial ice fishing harvesters; they’re Métis and they do this work,” she says. “I mean, Jamie [Linington], who is in the film, was six months pregnant at the time and she was doing this work.”

Lazarowich also believes that women’s labour is often erased from the media and she is interested in documenting “the work that women do.”

She also sees a discrepancy between the work Indigenous women are portrayed as doing and the work they actually do.

“I think the narrative around Indigenous people sometimes is that it’s always the men who are hunting and fishing, and it’s just the women who are gathering, but most of the time a lot of women do hunt and a lot of women do, do these things that are considered, in some cases, masculine,” Lazarowich says.

The women in her film also work in some pretty harsh conditions. It was about minus 24 degrees while they were filming out on the lake.

“When you’re out on a flat surface there is no wind barrier,” Lazarowich says. “So it was cold, but it was amazing. It was just an incredible experience to be on an open lake that I grew up on in the middle of winter with all of these amazing and really spectacular and talented Indigenous women. It’s something that I’ll never forget.”

“Lake,” written and directed by Alexandra Lazarowich

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