Prof. Ali Kazimi’s documentary explores little-known struggle of the Sinixt people
Twenty-seven years in the making, School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design Film Professor Ali Kazimi’s documentary about an autonomous Indigenous people’s struggle to overturn their legal extinction is set to receive its international premiere.
The film, Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence, is Kazimi’s critically acclaimed, award-winning feature documentary. It recently screened at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival in Vancouver, B.C. in May (co-presented with community partner
Rungh magazine) and garnered The People’s Choice Award at the Toronto’s Planet in Focus International Environmental Film Festival. The film tells the story of the decades-long struggle of the autonomous Sinixt people to overturn their legal extinction by Canada in 1956.
Now the film will receive its international premiere at the highly prestigious International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam with four screenings taking place from Nov. 11 to 16. Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence is the only Canadian feature selected for the 35th edition of this film festival and is among 23 films that will be screened in Frontlight, a program that showcases “a leading cohort of truth-seeking filmmakers who don’t compromise on stylistic integrity.”
Kazimi began documenting the struggles of the Sinixt First Nation peoples in 1995 following an unusual encounter. “A close friend, immigration lawyer Zool Suleman, had recently started his practice and had shared with me a truly bizarre and shocking case. His client, Robert Watt, was being held in detention and was facing deportation to the United States,” said Kazimi, noting Suleman had indicated that Watt had maintained to Canadian immigration authorities that he was Indigenous and had been appointed as caretaker by the Sinixt Council of Elders to protect an ancient village site and burial ground situated in Vallican, B.C. According to Suleman, the immigration department’s response was that “while that might be true, Watt was not legally recognized as an Indigenous person in Canada since the Sinixt people, then known as the Arrow Lakes, were declared extinct in 1956. Hence, Watt was an American without proper immigration authorization and therefore the deportation order was justified.”
In 1995, after hearing the story of Watt and the Sinixt struggle, Kazimi reached out to Marilyn James, the official spokesperson of the Sinixt. After several weeks of phone conversations, James invited Kazimi to attend the annual Thanksgiving gathering at the site. The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was interested in the idea about a film on the Watt case. Kazimi used the limited funds he received from the NFB to produce seven hours of initial recordings that are now the core of the film.
Progress on the film stalled, and in 1995, unable to get a green light for the film, Kazimi was forced to put the project to one side. He held on to the material he had filmed and continued over the years to follow the legal and activist developments of the Sinixt people.
In 2019, after he received the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts, Kazimi decided to use the award prize funds to restart the Sinixt project.
Beyond Extinction: Sinixt Resurgence also plays at Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 2:30pm in Cinema 4 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. The festival is also streaming the film from Nov. 14 to 20.