Award-winning filmmaker and acclaimed visionary Jeff Barnaby passed away inMontreal on Oct. 13, following a year-long battle with cancer.
The 46-year-old, who was born and raised on the Mi’gmaq community of Listuguj,is widely celebrated as redefining Indigenous cinema with elements of magicalrealism, body horror and sci-fi.
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According to a release announcing Barnaby’s passing, he is remembered as apassionate filmmaker who loved music and often created the soundtracks to hisfilms on the fly with whatever instruments were required. He wasuncompromising in his stance on Indigenous identity and storytelling, and wasa valued member of the film community for his authenticity and honesty.
“In Mi’gmaq the word for ancestor and parent is the same thing, ungi’gul. Yourlanguage, your land, and your elsewhere are time capsules as much as they arecultural touchstones,” Barnaby recently wrote, as per the release.
“As an Indigenous person you exist to move your culture forward from the pastinto the present to ensure its survival for the future. And whereas theinherited trauma can inform the theme, experiencing time as a singularityeffects structure, the indigenous narrative exists all at once because we areliving, breathing history.”
Growing up, Barnaby was inspired by horror and sci-fi films like DavidCronenberg’s “Rabid,” the Quebec feature “Léolo,” “Bladerunner” and“Predator.” He was also heavily impacted by Alanis Obomoswain’s “Incident atRestigouche,” a documentary about the Quebec Provincial Police’s raid on areserve. The film was shot on Barnaby’s home reserve when he was four-years-old.
Later, Barnaby attended Dawson College in Montreal and went on to graduatefrom Concordia University’s Cinema Program.
Barnaby wrote, directed and edited all of his films, beginning with his 2004short, “From Cherry English,” which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. His2007 film, “The Colony,” premiered as one of the Top Ten at the TorontoInternational Film Festival that year. In 2010, “File Under Miscellaneous” wonthe Best Indigenous Language Production Jury Prize from ImagineNative Film +Media Arts Festival, and “Etlinisigu’niet (Bleed Down)” was made for theNational Film Board of Canada in 2015.
The filmmaker debuted his first feature film, “Rhymes for Young Ghouls,” in2013. Devery Jacobs, Glen Gould, Brandon Oakes and Roseanne Supernault starredin the revenge story, which was set on the fictional Red Crow reserve. Ittackled horrifying events surrounding Canada’s Residential School system,stories of which are still coming to light in the country today.
Barnaby’s final feature, the 2019 colonialism-critiquing film “Blood Quantum,”was 12 years in the making. It traced an apocalyptic event where Indigenouspeoples were immune to a zombie plague. The film won seven Canadian ScreenAwards—including a personal win for Barnaby in Achievement in Editing. He wasalso nominated for best Original Screenplay.
“Beautifully stubborn ’til the very end, Jeff Barnaby was bold in his life andhis work. He bore a sensitivity, poignancy and depth within him, thattranslated through his films and resonated with audiences Indigenous and non-Native alike,” said Jacobs.
“Jeff had an ineffable impact on my life. I wouldn’t be an actor today, if itweren’t for Jeff. Having nearly given up on this career, he not only took achance on me, but fought relentlessly to cast me in his debut feature ‘Rhymesfor Young Ghouls,’ my first leading role. We were bound and forever changedfrom that experience, and formed a special connection of understanding,respect and longstanding friendship.”
“Jeff Barnaby’s films changed Canada, and played an outsize role in advancingthe cultural and political imperative to reconcile with Indigenous peoples.His mastery of the craft, his storytelling, his uncompromising vision, and hishumanity shine through his work,” wrote friend and producer John Christou.
“My greatest hope is that the next generation of Indigenous filmmakers willpick up the torch and honor his legacy by being equally uncompromising in therealization of their vision. The film industry has lost a visionary and uniquevoice, but more importantly, many of us have lost a friend. We are comfortedin knowing that Jeff’s legacy will live on through his incredible work.”
Barnaby survived by his wife, Sarah Del Seronde, and his son Miles.
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