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Rooftop Cinema: INAATE/SE/ [it shines a certain way. to a certain place./it flies. falls./]

  • Madison Museum of Contemporary Art 227 State Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

MMOCA's summer experimental film series wraps up with an unsparing documentary about colonization in the Upper Peninsula. Info

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Zack Khalil and Adam Khalil's 2016 film INNATE opens with a shot of rapidly flowing water, framed with no identifying marks besides light glistening on the current. This makes the water appear as seemingly pure and abstract movement. But a voice-over soon explains that this movement isn't even natural; it is instead sped-up by a shipping canal. The experimental documentary then quickly jumps to an archival office, where a man explains that the canal that destroyed the site of an Ojibway meeting place was built to facilitate a copper rush, which further tore up the land. By beginning with the physical truths of artificiality in the physical space of the Upper Michigan town of Sault Ste. Marie, the movie establishes solid ground on which to move to the artificial constructions of history that many Midwesterners live with today.

As the Khalils, brothers and Ojibway members, layer their performances, documentary-style interviews, and found footage on top of each other, viewers begin to see history reconstructed before them, as another Euro-centric version falls away. We see that horrible choices were made by white colonizers and Catholic priests, and then covered up, making the act of turning back to figure out how we got here, and to understand how a culture was almost intentionally destroyed, all the more difficult.

Much of the film juxtaposes the Ojibway Seven Fires prophecy and the history lessons of a missionary tourist attraction fittingly called the Tower of History. According to the brothers, "The Seven Fires Prophecy is a story about the history of our tribe (Ojibway), which both predates and predicts first contact with Europeans… The prophecy serves as both a record of the past, and a foretelling of the future. It is not a fatalistic prophecy but one which presents multiple forks in the path of the Ojibway people and seeks to guide us along productive lines."  

Explanations of the prophecy are interspersed with hard cuts to the smiling, white tour guide of the tower, who celebrates Christian conversions and land theft, and deliberately glosses over native histories, holding artifacts and artworks behind glass before playing with them. Even as the film juggles complicated and subconscious versions of historical action, the movie could be a good starting point for Wisconsinites to learn about a group of people who were almost destroyed, yet still reside and thrive throughout the northern Midwest and Canada today. In addition to the educational aspects, the film's weaving together of historical documentation and experimental splicing together of seemingly disparate aspects of fiction, spirituality and people's lived reality make it a great finale for MMoCA's June film series. —Reid Kurkerewicz