The usage of monuments dates back millennia as an ode to history and important people who have passed away. But they don't always represent the best parts of history or even the truth about our history.
New Monuments is an hour-long original film that blends activism and art around issues related to Indigenous, Black, and People of Colour (IBPOC) communities with music, while tracing the story of Canada from its earliest history all the way up to the present day. What does the future hold? Over 40 internationally recognized IBPOC Toronto talents will give us an exhilarating tour of history, working alongside homegrown talents. The movie will premiere at Luminato Festival Toronto and will be streamed on CBC Gem on October 15, 2021.
New Monuments is co-produced by Canadian Stage and Luminato Festival Toronto in association with Harbourfront Centre, National Arts Centre, and TO Live. The film is conceived and curated by Toronto's iconic Grammy-nominated, multiple award-winning director Julien Christian Lutz aka DIRECTOR X, alongside award-winning artistic producer and curator Umbereen Inayet and visionary three-time MTV VMA-nominated Tanisha Scott as lead choreographer.
Director X believes that one of the central roles of artists in today's society is to help people stay in touch with their sanity. “This is how human beings express their energy. Artists help people find that expression in themselves. It gives them something to strive for,” explains Director X.
The film features a wide array of dance styles (ballet, street style, contemporary) to share the story of Canada, North America, and Western society. According to Director X, New Monuments will use dance as a medium to tell the story of Canada, from the European colonization of Indigenous people, to discussions about climate change and the state of activism. It provokes the viewer to think about the planet.
“Ultimately, it’s a story of healing and unity and where we need to go as a species for our survival,” says Director X.
It is hoped that the film will encourage everyone to be respectful of different cultures and histories. Rachel Forbes, production designer of the film says, “Nearly all monuments in Canada are colonial and miss some of the most important events in history. They don't represent everybody. I think it's time to evaluate what that is doing to our collective psyche.”
New Monuments asks many questions such as:
- Do the statues that adorn our public spaces speak to the values that represent us as a city, and elevate our values of freedom and diversity?
- Should they be discarded?
- What are the new standards that define us, and which ones should make the cut?
The film answers some of the questions by hypothesizing what the world would look like without racist monuments, which is where IBPOC art and activism seamlessly intersect.
Some of the monuments that no longer represent Canada's values include the recently torn down statue of Egerton Ryerson, “He was a big part of the residential school system. I went to Ryerson and I often passed by the statue that represented a man who had done some bad things,” says Forbes. “Nobody would agree with those values anymore.”
Forbes thinks that it's good that the statue is gone because it will empower people in the moment. She advises Ryerson to change its name according to the wishes of the Indigenous people.
“I do think that the university should change its name. But it should be the call of the Indigenous people. If they feel that's the right thing to do, I would stand by them,” says Forbes before adding, “Also, even before that statue at Ryerson was torn down, there were a lot of conversations about the issue. We've been talking about these things for a long time. Sometimes talking alone doesn't bring about change. You've got to just go and rip the statues down. What can you do to have your voice heard? If that's what it takes, then so be it.”
(Ryerson has since announced it will in fact rename the school, after accepting all 22 recommendations from the Standing Strong Task Force)
She also says, “For me personally, I haven't been part of any of those protests, and I can only speak for myself, but I think that it's a good thing that those statues are gone. If it empowers people, then it should be done.”
Forbes adds that the Black communities feel similarly towards racist statues, however, the point isn't to put up different monuments or memorializing one person. “The only way forward is to replace the idea of colonialism with a new one,” she says.
Forbes’ wish is for a world free of prejudice and oppression where she can be all parts of herself at all times.
“Even though I’ve written the story, we're all working together and speaking together. We are speaking with different community groups and each dance group represents their culture and they are very much in control of what they're doing. So, everyone is involved in this film,” says Director X, explaining the collaborative process of producing the film with other contributors.
Forbes is proud of how the film has managed to touch so many different stories and experiences, including those of the Black community.
“I get to work with so many people and creators. I've learned so much by collaborating with other artists. We hope that the momentum continues to grow,” says Forbes of the experience.
I think the experience will be different for others. Some people will empathize, some people will learn something new. Overall, I believe it is a film for everyone,” says Forbes. “It is a beautiful expression of unity and peace.”
Director X shares a similar sentiment. “This film represents all of us. We have to deal with our history so we can look to the future. That's what this whole thing's about. Looking to the past, recognizing the present, and moving to the future. So please come join us.”
“New Monuments” has its premiere at Luminato Festival Toronto and will be streamed on CBC Gem October 15, 2021.