DOXA 2021: Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers's new doc examines how to achieve a paradigm shift in drug treatment

Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning Of Empathy was shot over five years

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      The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers’s new documentary is both an intimate and expansive portrait of an Indigenous community grappling with the opioid epidemic.

      Set primarily on the Kainai First Nation in Alberta, Kímmapiiyipitssini (a Blackfoot word that means “giving kindness to each other”) profiles several people who candidly discuss their struggles while frontline doctors (including the director’s mother, Esther Tailfeathers) attempt to effect a paradigm shift in thinking around addiction treatment—from 12-step abstinence programs to harm reduction.

      Shot over five years and narrated by the director, the movie is a methodical, vérité portrait of nitty-gritty work.

      In addition to visiting people’s homes and listening to personal stories, Tailfeathers shows the kind of tireless grassroots work—in clinics and boardrooms, on street corners and at community events—required to convince people this new epidemic needs a new approach.

      Vancouver Film School and UBC grad Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers is a Blackfoot and Sámi director from the Kainai First Nation.

      She also captures hostile pushback in scenes showing users of a (now shuttered) safe-injection site in Lethbridge being surveilled and harassed by the local community.

      Not only are doctors working to change the hearts and minds of wary people grappling with deep traumas but they’re up against structural forces, racism, the weight of historical injustice, and government apathy.

      What emerges is a compelling look at work that exists in a space between patient resolve and intense urgency.

      Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning Of Empathy streams at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival from May 6 to 16. It will also be shown at the DOXA Drive-In next Friday (May 14) at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) Amphitheatre. For more information, visit the DOXA website.