TIFF 2021: Night Raiders

Image courtesy of TIFF

A prophecy holds the key to the future in Night Raiders.

After a civil war in the not-so-distant future, minors are taken from their families to “The Academy,” a state-run facility brainwashing young minds to serve “one country, one language, one flag.” Nika (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers) and her daughter Waseese (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart ) have avoided the authorities by living in the forest. When a bear trap injures Waseese, Niska has to surrender her to the state to get medical attention. Ten months without her daughter has left Niska without much hope, and she goes to The Academy daily to see if she can make contact with her. Stumbling upon a nighttime mission lands her in a plot to rescue the seized children from the sinister machinations of the authorities and fulfil a prophecy foretold by Ida (Gail Maurice), a tough Cree woman and leader at the raiders’ encampment.

Night Raiders is a great dystopian sci-fi that directly addresses residential schools and the occupation of Indigenous lands. Director and writer Danis Goulet shows how this can be the future if we allow the powers-that-be to continue with a settler mentality. Goulet poses a simple warning and reflection of what Indigenous people have endured in Night Raiders, but it’s not all doom and gloom. I loved the use of the Cree language throughout the film since Indigenous languages have always been threatened. It’s reclaimed in a dystopian future, just like the visibility of Indigenous people in the future. It’s a no-brainer that Goulet uses Indigenous leads in her film, but more filmmakers must include BIPOC in futuristic worlds because we are often forgotten.

Tailfeathers, Letexier-Hart, and Maurice grace the screen with powerful performances and embrace the sci-fi aspects that aren’t really that far-fetched. It was also nice to see Amanda Plummer bringing her signature quirk to the role of Niska’s friend Roberta. There’s a global element to Night Raiders as well. Taika Waititi and Chelsea Winstanley, who produced the project, and Alex Tarrant, who plays Maori raider, Leo, make this the first Canadian/New Zealand Indigenous co-production. It’s a global connection that I am here for and want to see much more of.

I’m really surprised that Night Raiders is Goulet’s first feature since the film is sure of itself, melding action, strong women characters, genre and a deeply important story in such an accessible way that you’ll find yourself rooting for these heroes as they band together to fight the power.

Check out the 2021 TIFF festival here.

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