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How a village’s first totem pole ceremony in a century sparked a spiritual awakening

On 22 August 1969, the Indigenous Haida community in the village of Masset in British Columbia gathered for its first totem pole-raising ceremony in nearly a century. There to shoot the historic occasion was the National Film Board of Canada’s all-Indigenous ‘Indian Film Crew’. The footage was then handed over to a non-Indigenous post-production team and edited into a short documentary. The resulting film, This Was the Time (1970), featured non-Indigenous narration and a decidedly Euro-Canadian perspective, framing the Haida as a disappearing people rather than one poised for rebirth following decades in which the Canadian government had essentially outlawed their culture.

A powerful and accomplished work of reclamation, Now Is the Time (2019) captures the 1969 ceremony from a Haida perspective – and with a stunning 4K restoration of the original footage. The short documentary includes new interviews with the celebrated Haida carver Robert Davidson – who was just 22 years old when he carved the totem – and the Haida educator and activist Barbara Wilson, who crafted the initial proposal for the original documentary, and was instrumental to bringing its follow-up to life 50 years later. Lending the archival footage a fresh sense of perspective and clarity, the Haida filmmaker Christopher Auchter’s short documentary illuminates how the ceremony sparked a renewed sense of spiritual purpose in the community.

Director: Christopher Auchter

Producer: Selwyn Jacob

Website: National Film Board of Canada

20 July 2020

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