2016, HD video, sound, 68 minutes
Adam Khalil and Zack Khalil’s film, INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place/it flies. falls./], combines documentary, narrative, and experimental forms to delve into an ancient Ojibway prophecy and its communal resonances. As the prophecy presents both a record of the past and a foretelling of what is to come, the collaborative work imagines new indigenous futures, looking simultaneously backward and forward. In parallel, the film critiques institutional archives and the consumption of indigenous culture by outside audiences.
Suzy Halajian: INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place/it flies. falls./]’s story is personal, reflected in the film through the oral history of the Seven Fires Prophecy—the spiritual story of your Ojibway tribe going back 2,000 years—as well as your experience of Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. What was your initial drive to tell this story? `
Adam Khalil: My brother and I started after our mother, Allison Krebs, passed away in 2013. She was an important member of our tribe (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians), running the Youth Education and Activities Program and being one of the librarians at the local school. She had relocated to Seattle to pursue her Ph.D. in Information Science at the University of Washington shortly before she passed: her thesis sought to shift the power dynamics of indigenous knowledge back to the people. I’m thankful we had the opportunity to continue her work, and in many ways this film is a collaboration with her. The footage from the National Museum of American Indian cold storage facility in Suitland, Maryland, comes from when I worked as her cinematographer for a video she was making. INAATE/SE/ is a tribute to her legacy and also functions as a way to engage with our community as individuals as well as the children of our mother.
We also felt it was important to author a story from our communities’ perspectives, presenting decolonial visions of local history. Part of this came from studying the historically destructive gaze of anthropology and documentary towards indigenous culture and wanting to reclaim narratives from local settler-colonial institutions who had monopolized them.
SH: You’ve said that the film was an attempt to consider how an inherently Ojibway form of cinema might look. What decisions informed the process, to create this disorienting effect that’s still legible to multiple audiences?
AK: Thinking through cinema history via a national lens (American cinema, Japanese cinema, etc.), we wanted to tease out an Ojibway form. This was liberating, in the sense that we could lay out all the formal devices, pick the ones we liked, and discard conventions we thought would confine or obstruct indigenous agency.
This also involved developing a unique structure: we think of INAATE/SE/ as a spiral that could be stretched out to present an arc, but also let go, to snap back into form. Part of this was to complicate and collapse notions of past, present, and future within storytelling. From an Ojibway perspective, we’re taught to consider our actions within a continuum of seven generations into the past and seven into the future, that all of our present-day actions are related to these former and yet-to-come relatives. As such, a specific location will appear multiple times in different eras, or the audience will be told the end of a story before the beginning. These temporal displacements articulate an Ojibway perspective.
The variety of formal choices stemmed from attempting to author this emergent form, thinking not only on a horizontal axis but also a vertical one. This led us to incorporate layers and types of materials that could be overlaid to create multiple meanings within each edit. This was, in part, to obscure source material or ideas that should not be shared openly with settler audiences, allowing us to code the film’s language to let those “in the know” in on what we were trying to communicate.
SH: In what ways does language operate in INAATE/SE/ and how does the title reflect critical ideas about translation? It’s clear that the Ojibway language has had to evolve to escape colonial tools that appropriate and erase indigenous culture.
AK: Simply put, INAATE/SE/ is an Anishinaabe word that means “a movie” but there is a linguistic theory stating that each syllable is a verb, so when this word is broken down it literally translates to “it shines. a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls.” This describes the basic mechanics, as the light shines onto the screen and the film (celluloid film in case of this transliteration) flies in front of the bulb and falls onto the take-up reel. For us it had another resonance, as the film shined a certain way in a certain place, our community in Bahweting (currently known as Sault Ste. Marie), and the idiosyncratic nature of the production was summed up nicely in the poetic phrase “it flies, it falls.”
Indigenous agency has been confined by a need to be authentic, and the only way to validate that is to point back toward an irretrievable past. The flexibility of the Anishinaabe language to allow for the creation of new words or forms was key to our imagining. Tradition is important, but only relevant when it’s the core of an evolving contemporary Ojibway culture. In this way, the inability to translate one-to-one was also liberating, to imagine new worlds and filmmaking tactics.
SH: Humor and playfulness are integral, considering what it means to be Ojibway today through the characters and the artifacts frozen in museological spaces. You enact a subversive position by exploring the prophecy in the contemporary, while dismantling stereotypes and representation histories found in films and archives. Can you expand on what humor offers?
AK: Humor is important to us and is a characteristic of a lot of indigenous art and culture. There’s an essay by Vine Deloria Jr. titled “Indian Humor” and he unpacks the necessity to use humor to address the overwhelming trauma that colonization has brought. In Ojibway culture, there’s this figure, Nanabozho, who’s a trickster or a sacred clown type, and there’s a way of working through trauma and complicated questions about identity in his trickster way—shaking things up to see what’s really there—creating space for humor and exploring taboos. That’s an approach that was crucial for us to incorporate—to mix the sacred and the profane.
Co-Directors: Adam Khalil, Zack KhalilCinematography: Adam Khalil, Zack KhalilEditing: Adam Khalil, Zack KhalilMusic: Zack Khalil, Austin JulianExecutive Producer: Steve Holmgren Producer: Sam Richardson, Sarah Kerr, Carolyn Lazard, Alex Lazarowich