- The Cosmological Liveliness of Terril Calder's The LodgeAnimating Our Relations and Unsettling Our Cinematic Spaces
Hybridity is key; as I am Métis.—Terril Calder, personal interview
I first saw Métis artist Terril Calder's 2014 stop-frame feature, The Lodge, an independently made, relatively small- budget film, at its premiere at the ImagineNative Film + Media Arts festival, held annually in Toronto, Canada. The feature-length animation played to a full house at the Light-box Theater downtown. Many were there to attend the five-day festival, which is dedicated to Indigenous media made by and for Indigenous people. Others were there because as members of Toronto's general public they wanted to catch a movie during a night out in the city. Since then The Lodge has shown at various other independent venues. It isn't what you might think of as commercial fare. Its audiences are not huge.
However, for those who do view The Lodge, the film presents a creative space to rethink our sense of boundaries in a number of ways: boundaries between human/nonhuman, white/Indigenous, male/female, spectator/film-object. In this essay, I argue that the film is thus an invitation to question the "naturalness" of hegemonic identity assumptions that demarcate such boundaries. I interviewed Calder (via Skype and subsequent email correspondence) soon after I saw the film, and I situate a close textual analysis of the film within the context of her intent and the burgeoning scholarly dialogue between Indigenous studies and ecocritical studies. The scholarly dialogue, as Joni Adamson and I write in the introduction to our recent anthology, Ecocriticism and Indigenous Studies: Conversations from Earth to Cosmos (2016), argues for "clear sighted understandings of multi-faceted human/more-than-human relationships" [End Page 1] that exist outside of binaries imposed by Western notions of "progress" (14–15, emphasis added). Similarly, Steven Loft, coeditor of Coded Territories: Tracing Indigenous Pathways in New Media Art, writes of an Indigenous "media cosmology" that is "replete with life and spirit, inclusive of beings, thought, prophecy, and the underlying connectedness of all things" and that is not predicated on Western foundations of thought (xvi). Calder extends such Indigenous worldviews of connectedness to cinema and animation in particular.
The essay, thus, extends current conversations in animation studies, ecocinema studies, and Indigenous studies.1 It argues that there are two entwined elements that this film offers us for the critical project of rethinking ecosocial crises: the animation mode itself coupled with Calder's Métis sensibilities. In animation, we are used to (1) seeing the inanimate alive ("objects" talk, transform, act, be) and (2) believing in their agency (at least as part of the film world) because (3) the form is invitingly playful. Thinking of animation with these three characteristics imbues it with a sense of what I would like to call its cosmological liveliness, where agential existence is recognized beyond human agents. While the notion of such agential recognition has marked European American ecocritical scholarship's recent "ontological" or "cosmopolitical" turn, as Indigenous studies scholars such as Zoe Todd write, this turn does not necessarily acknowledge Indigenous cosmological world-views, which have for centuries argued for nonhuman agency and vital materialism as a means to frame ethical relations with other beings—nonhuman, human, and the hybrid in-betweens.2
Thus, while various ecocinema scholars have argued for animation's ability to imbue the "inanimate" environment with life, they have not considered how Indigenous worldviews can deepen such understandings.3 Specifically, existing ecocinema scholarship has not argued comprehensively how animation can prompt us to rethink the boundaries we commonly erect not only between human/nonhuman but also between human and human, whether these are racial, gendered, classist, or otherwise.4 Cosmological liveliness, I argue, with its roots in Indigenous thought, addresses these vital, entangled, and multifaceted aspects of our environmental relations. At its premiere The Lodge was billed as a film that "interrogates colonial concepts of savagery, critiques the dehumanizing of Indigenous peoples, and explores the powerful medicine of our animal relations" (ImagineNative). The film thus seeks to interrogate [End Page 2] how understandings of human/nonhuman bleed into social categories...