Short film about Cree man's life in Winnipeg premieres at Hot Docs Festival

A short documentary looking at life in Winnipeg through the eyes of an urban Indigenous man will premiere at the 2019 Hot Docs Festival in Toronto.

Life in the City of Dirty Water is a 19-minute documentary written, directed and narrated by Clayton Thomas-Muller of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.

He described the film as a survival guide for the urbanized Indigenous person.

“It’s been about confronting trauma full on and unpacking a lot of complicated issues,” he said.

In the film, Thomas-Muller reflects on his life and times as an activist for social, environmental, and economic justice for Indigenous people. 

He said creating the film has been a healing journey as he confronts personal trauma he experienced growing up as the child of two residential school survivors.

A personal story shared by many

“In sharing this story my hope was other Native people could share their own stories, that they could find the courage to confront their own trauma,” he said.

Even though Life in the City of Dirty Water is Thomas-Muller’s story, he said many Indigenous people are facing the same challenges and questions in urban centres in trying to figure out who they are, where they fit in, and how to heal.

‘In sharing this story my hope was other Native people could share their own stories, that they could find the courage to confront their own trauma,’ says Clayton Thomas-Muller. (Spencer Mann)

Thomas-Muller said he hopes non-Indigenous people come away from the film with more knowledge of the long history of dispossession, loss of culture, traditions and languages and the intergenerational trauma that stems from the residential school system.

“I want them to walk away with just a little bit of understanding of their Native friends and why they are the way they are,” he said.

“Maybe that will humanize the conversation around reconciliation in this country.”

A twist on oral storytelling

Co-director and videographer Spender Mann met Thomas-Muller six years ago through the Idle No More movement. Over two years, Mann followed Thomas-Muller on his activism campaign capturing moments and stories for Life in the City of Dirty Water.

The film is part of a larger project which will include the release of a book following the same narration by Thomas-Muller, as well as an online forum featuring digital vignettes.

The entire project centres on oral storytelling as a continuation of cultural expression.

“I think that stories have a tremendous power to transform the hearts and the mind and the action of people who get to experience that story and have a connection with the storyteller,” said Thomas-Muller.

The Hot Docs Festival runs until May 5 in Toronto.

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