Biidaaban: A Powerful Indigenous Tale of Magic and Resistance Brought to Life
Charlotte Rawlings

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s story inspired the creation of this beautifully realised, but critically powerful movie that explores the most pertinent issues facing Indigenous peoples.

Imagine a world that appears as if a child had perceived it. Where fear manifests itself in the most mundane of items, where the purity of magic prevails when the sun goes down, where everything exists with the charm of a children’s pop-up book imbued within it. Amanda Strong makes this fantasy a reality in her stop-frame animation Biidaaban (The Dawn Comes).

The film is based on the work of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, an Indigenous writer belonging to the Mississauga subtribe of the First Nations located in Ontario, Canada. Simpson is known for utilising the wonders of magic and spirituality to convey her passion for reviving Indigenous culture. In this story, we meet the eccentric Biidaaban and her 10,000-year-old shapeshifting companion Sabe, while they undertake a crucial quest to reclaim the beauty of Indigenous tradition and resist against a dark contemporary world that wants to bury it and forget.

Masked by the cover of nightfall, Biidaaban and Sabe take to the streets of a Canadian suburban town that appears ordinary on the surface, but is steeped in fantastical danger. The two characters attempt to collect sap from maple trees in order to make maple sugar, a task that had been practiced by their ancestors generations before. Throughout their journey, they are under the watchful eye of two hypnotically beautiful ghosts taking the shape of a wolf and a caribou – representing nature’s lost past and forming a key element of the story’s imagery.

The 19-minute film took two years to make and the attention to detail woven throughout the tale does not go unnoticed. Strong utilises the charms and quirks of traditional animation with such artistry in her miniature sets and puppets, and it injects this twee yet poignant story with the Hollywood auteurship of Tim Burton or Wes Anderson. Strong takes the art of cinematic visuals to otherworldly places that even transcend the need for dialogue. The majority of the narrative remains wordless, aside from the poetry that appears at the beginning and end of the story, sandwiching the message of tradition between realities of a contemporary world. Strong excels at executing a meaningful wordless narrative by turning it into a highly effective storytelling tool that deserves praise in and of itself.

There is an abundance of striking imagery running throughout the film to address a number of critical issues faced by Indigenous communities. These include fears around the loss of their culture, history and land – something that is cultivated in the film by recalling childhood fears. For instance, supposedly harmless everyday objects like a garden hose are brought to life and used to attack Biidaaban, standing in the way of her fight to reclaim her ceremonial heritage. Strong also draws attention to modernity’s oppression of Indigenous land through varying shots of electricity running through the depths of nature, a stark contrast forming between the two. The critiques do not end there, as it is evident Strong is alluding to the environmental problems the world is experiencing currently, where the ghosts of the wolf and the caribou, although beautiful, stand to represent the animals who have been chased out of their homes by land development – further acting as a metaphor for how Indigenous people has been treated, as their culture is too at risk of extinction. Strong has voiced that we are forgetting to honour the ancestors and animals that were here long before us, particularly in Canada where this story is set. This short film is a call to action, encouraging Indigenous viewers to prevent their culture from being drowned out by the white noise of modernity, to fight against land development and reclaim their rich history.

The characters of Biidaaban and Sabe embody this desired strength and tell their audiences there is no need to be afraid anymore. The final frame of the film reminds us that although tradition and modernity still stand north and south of one another, the fight to reclaim ceremonial custom lies between them in an electric space ready to collide. I would highly recommend this short for its beautifully creative form of storytelling and using this dreamlike world to unite a diverse set of cultures in understanding the issues impacting Indigenous communities that are far from fiction. It is a celebration of both the heritage of Indigenous culture and the artistry of animation.

Biidaaban is part of the Native Spirit Indigenous Film Festival, which continues in London. Register here. This film was created by CBC Arts and is available to watch on their YouTube channel.

Charlotte Rawlings

Charlotte Rawlings


Charlotte Rawlings is a University of Southampton film graduate and blogger with a passion for all things cinema.

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