The Future Issue Interview

Culture Urban Culture

Un-Settling the City

An Interview with Lisa Jackson, Imagining Indigenous Futures

[~3,000 words] The National Film Board of Canada describes Biidaaban: First Light as “an interactive VR time-jump into a potential Toronto of tomorrow where users explore an altered city reclaimed by nature, and are invited to think about their place in history and ultimately their role in the future.”

To the Peeps team, Biidaaban is more than an animated VR experience winning international recognition, including Official Selection at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. It’s an immersive study in Indigenous concepts of balance and respect, played out against a visual backdrop that rebalances settler-colonial city architecture with nature and living Indigenous languages. Half-ruined buildings are covered with ivy and moss, subway tunnels have become waterways where people travel in canoes, and the sky is turned crystalline by a vast scintillating field of stars.

As we explore this future, we hear a question, a poem, and a prayer in Indigenous languages. These are translated and ultimately written in the sky, narrating the context we inhabit as we experience a Toronto where tobacco and corn are grown on the roofs of buildings we recognize as office buildings and hotels today.

The sum of the experience for most uninitiated in Indigenous culture might seem uncanny, spiritual, evocative or profound. We left the experience curious about the cultural perspective behind the Indigenous future we witness in this piece and its complex interplay between language, symbol, and place.

The project’s director, Lisa Jackson, is a filmmaker and artist whose body of work traces her roots in Indigenous cultural advocacy. Our attention to Biidaaban finally yielded an opportunity to connect with her in one of her favourite haunts in Toronto.

Over coffee, we discussed the VR experience Lisa Jackson created with her team including Indigenous language speakers, translators and consultants; the uniquely talented concept artist who created this future world; a digital agency; and the NFB.

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