If there is a common theme in the videos by Dana Inkster it’s the hope of love in difficult times. In one video characters speak of love and loss on the night before the destruction of their community; in another a character becomes aware of being invisible in a crowded club; in another a group of workers made up of immigrants and small-town Albertans join forces to fight for their rights. Throughout these different stories the figures face adversity but never seem to lose hope.
That optimism is evident too when Inkster, friendly and open, discusses her work. “A lot of it is about the complexity of the human heart,” she says, “and how it just strives to love.”
Inside Out turns a spotlight on the Alberta-based filmmaker, screening four of her works at 3:45pm on Sat, May 23.
Inkster was born in Ottawa and spent most of her childhood in Ontario, then travelling across Canada and the world. Her adult life was transformed, however, when she moved to Montreal in the pursuit of, what else, love. But heartbreak led Inkster to bounce between Montreal and Toronto. “So once I got my heart broken in one city,” she says, laughing, “I’d move back to the other again.”
Inkster’s works are intensely personal. In her celebrated 1999 docudrama Welcome to Africville the director seamlessly weaves together the physical loss of community and the emotional loss of heartbreak into the story of a black community in Halifax destroyed by the government in the name of progress. Her 2001 short film The Art of Autobiography: Redux I is an experiment in narrative with stark images juxtaposed with a (seemingly) light-hearted story. Hopefulness shines through in both works.
“[I try] to be perpetually optimistic, in the face of adversity, to love,” says Inkster. “That’s a big part of how I live my life and the lens through which I see the world.”
She moved to Lethbridge, Alberta in 2001 with her partner Annie and they are raising a son together. “It’s a whole new cultural chapter,” she says. Living in Alberta inspired a slight change in direction for her work when she made a documentary about a small town that was transformed by immigration and how that led to all the workers joining forces to improve their quality of life. Twenty Four Days in Brooks won the 2008 Alberta Motion Picture Industry Award for best production reflecting cultural diversity.
How does identifying as queer affect the angle of her work? “In terms of queer identity I think that’s a wonderful position from which to see the world and then compose these tales in a different context, whether it be specifically and explicitly about queer love or implicitly about that optimism and that resiliency and that resolve that has developed in someone who takes on a queer identity or the identity of an outsider.”
There is a distinct Canadian quality to all of Inkster’s work too. “Growing up as a black girl in Canada our black, African-Canadian cultural experience is, while I was growing up, was very much overshadowed by African-American culture and all of its trappings. And to be Canadian is very specific. I find we live in a cultural landscape, because it’s so large, that it is formed by isolation in many ways, so it’s very different from the African-American urban experience.
“So in terms of my identity as a black woman and as a lesbian, really, it is my great privilege at all times, I feel, that it is my luxury to reinterpret how I see the world through these compositions. I just want to play a role in trying to make a contribution to that cultural fabric. I want to have a voice in the grand scheme of things to about what it is to be an African-Canadian and to make sure that my perspective that is very specific and distinct goes on record.”