Filmmaker, Producer, Director, Actor
Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is a writer, director, producer and actor. She is a member of the Kainai First Nation as well as Sámi from Norway. Her short documentary Bihttoš was selected as one of TIFF’s Top Ten Canadian shorts. She co-wrote and co-directed The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open with Kathleen Hepburn which premiered at the Berlinale in 2019 and received the Toronto Film Critics Association and Vancouver Film Critics Circle awards for best Canadian film. Tailfeathers’ feature-length documentary, Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy, premiered at the 2021 Hot Docs International Documentary Festival.
Meet with the Trailblazer
Ultimately, I draw inspiration from my people and my community, be that my Kainai community or my Sámi community, or the indigenous film community at large.
My approach to building my career and setting me on this path was unconventional, I started out as an actor, and I found myself making films 10 years ago. I think my intention at the time and to this day has always been to create material and tell stories that I didn’t see on screen.
I’ve had some incredible mentors along the way, Lisa Jackson, Danis Goulet, and Tasha Hubbard, and so many others. These Indigenous women and filmmakers have always made space and time for me… to ask questions…and I think that is such an important thing to have in our careers.
Community building has been central to all my work and my process. Most of the projects I have worked on have been done in very unconventional ways regarding the way that the mainstream film industry works and the general processes that are accepted as the status quo. I’ve been able to try things in a different way, a more intuitive way that is much more reflective of my own community and the way that we work together.
My mother, my father and my grandparents really gave me the freedom and family that has been very supportive and given me the confidence to do what I aspire to do, I never felt discouraged growing up, I have always had a family that’s been very supportive, kind and loving, and has challenged me to do better. I was raised consistently hearing from my grandparents that Indians have to try twice as hard, they were both residential school survivors and my father was a Sami boarding school survivor. I grew up witnessing people who worked very, very hard. I grew up with the understanding that I had to work twice as hard to be considered equal, because I grew up around that with very loving and supportive family, I was able to chase my dreams and try what I wanted to try.
I find that within the Indigenous film community particularly we are building new ways of working and consistently changing the industry in the ways that we’ve become accustomed to telling stories, challenging the status quo and creating a way of working that reflects the communities that we come from.
In my work I reached out the Indigenous film community early on and started building relationships and friendships that have sustained me in the last 10 years. The film community is a beautiful thriving community that is so supportive, respectful, and encouraging, and I’ve really leaned on them for support and found new ways of working.
I started out as an actor, 15 or 16 years ago and eventually found my way to filmmaking, I found at the time acting was not fulfilling my hopes and dreams, especially being an indigenous woman, I found that there was a lot of problematic material that I was auditioning for, and a lot of non-indigenous people telling stories with indigenous content that felt problematic and it didn't feel right to me.
Build community, get to know like-minded people who want to tell the same kind of stories that you want to tell.
I wanted to create films and tell stories that I wish I had when I was younger. I wanted to create and tell stories that made my community and grandparents proud and made them feel like we were being seen and heard on screen. I went back to school, I studied indigenous studies, women and gender studies. I learned how to operate a camera and use editing software and I made my first short film in 2011. I’ve been making films for 10 years.
Build community, get to know like-minded people who want to tell the same kind of stories that you want to tell. People who understand your vision and your creative hopes and dreams. Find mentors, people who inspire you and who are willing to listen. Stick to your goals, I think some of the most fruitful experiences have been just sticking to my vision and staying true to my voice as a filmmaker and recognizing that each and every one single one of us has a unique voice and unique vision and a story to tell.
I think my intention at the time and to this day has always been to create material and tell stories that I didn’t see on screen.
Filmmaker, Producer, Director, Actor