Jeff Barnaby uses zombies to contextualize colonialism in 'Blood Quantum'
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, September 7, 2019 10:52AM EDT
TORONTO -- Mi'gmaq filmmaker Jeff Barnaby says his new zombie thriller, “Blood Quantum,” is both a homage to his favourite classic horror movies and a commentary on the trauma faced by Indigenous people.
The Toronto International Film Festival title is set on a fictional First Nations reserve that's immune to a zombie plague and becomes inundated with outsiders looking for refuge.
Barnaby says the story was inspired by his childhood memories of watching horror films including “Night of the Living Dead” and also Alanis Obomsawin's documentary “Incident at Restigouche.”
Obomsawin's doc is about the 1981 armed Quebec Provincial Police raid on the Restigouche Reserve to dispute the salmon-fishing rights of the Mi'gmaq.
Barnaby was living on the reserve at that time and says he used the zombie genre in “Blood Quantum” as a tool to contextualize colonialism and the horror of the past so it can be digested for the future.
“Blood Quantum” is Barnaby's sophomore feature after 2013's “Rhymes for Young Ghouls.”
“It sounds really trite but that's really the function of an artist, is to make the world a better place,” Barnaby, who wrote and directed “Blood Quantum,” said in an interview at the festival.
“It sounds absurd, like, 'Yeah, I sawed a woman's head in half in the film in my attempt to make the world a better place,”' he continued with a laugh.
“I think everybody loves a good zombie film and I think this is going to help people talk about the context a little bit more.”
Elle-Maija Tailfeathers, Michael Greyeyes, Brandon Oakes, Gary Farmer, Forrest Goodluck and Kawennahere Devery Jacobs are among the stars in the film that's making its world premiere at the festival.
The title refers to the controversial practise of determining Indigeneity based on the percentage of one's Indigenous ancestry.
Barnaby said he hopes audiences will want to possibly watch the film a second time or do some research afterward to learn about the political context.
He also predicts there will be more genre and horror films that also serve as cultural critiques.
“You're going to start seeing commentaries in a way that ... white people can really look at them more objectively and maybe not feel so personally attacked, because I think there's a lot of pain out there right now,” Barnaby said.
“If you go on a Twitter account, you see it every day. There's so much animosity and hostility toward that shared history.
“I think you're looking at a Western culture that can't come to terms with it, and you're looking at a minority culture that has to come to terms with it, and I think everybody is butting heads in the middle and I think that's where art comes in.
“I think the poets and the painters and the filmmakers and the musicians are going to start bridging that gap and help everybody heal.”