Loretta Todd

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Loretta Todd is a Métis Cree Canadian film director, producer, activist, storyteller, and writer.[1] She belongs to what has been classified as the second wave of aboriginal Canadian film directors,[2] and has been internationally recognized for her non-fiction work, which strives to express the lived experienced of aboriginal peoples and communities through their own voices.[3]

Early life[edit]

Loretta was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in the late 1950s. Todd's father, a member of both the Métis and Cree nations of Northern Alberta, held various jobs in order to support their eight children. Her mother was vibrant and loving. Loretta recalls a childhood filled with many family gatherings and various forms of artistic expression. Her experiences have also been shaped by her father's alcoholism and the poverty that their family experienced.

Loretta left home at the age of twelve to set out on her own. She took on various jobs to support herself and became pregnant as a young teenager. She got in touch with her passions for writing and film-making while attending community college.[1] In the late 1980s Todd's enrollment at Simon Fraser University's film school made her one of the first aboriginal woman to attend. For the first year she held a full-time job with the Canadian federal government while attending university, both her professional and student work centered around her passion for raising awareness about social inequalities that aboriginal communities face and social justice initiative that are aimed at improving the lived experiences for generations of aboriginal peoples to come.[4]

As a child, Todd recognized the power of the moving image as a storytelling medium. While watching F.W. Murnau's 1922 horror classic Nosferatu at age seven, she said she "began to understand that filmmakers used the tools of storytellers, which appealed to my Cree love of craft." The movies also offered Todd a sense of possibility and escape. She describes her childhood as filled with artmaking and storytelling, but marked by poverty and the alcoholism of her father (a subject she explored in her early short My Father's DTs). Todd left home at age 12 and during the next 10 years learned to support both herself and an infant daughter. At 18, Todd enrolled at a community college, where she quickly discovered her gifts as a writer, theorist and videomaker.[5][6][7]

Before she began her filmmaking career she worked for the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs as a researcher and writer for Youth, Health, and Social Development. Subsequent to that she worked as a program officer for the Employment and Immigration Commission and as a job re-entry coordinator for the Musqueam Indian Band. Her earliest films were My Dad's DTs, a 16 mm. experimental drama on adult children of alcoholics which she produced, wrote, and directed, Robes of Power,a video on ceremonial button robes, and a video installation entitled Red Road and Blue Neon.[7][6][8]

Personal life[edit]

She is knowledgeable about her culture – creating and producing an award-winning children’s series, Tansi! Nehiyawetan, that teaches kids to speak Cree, her father’s first language, as well as creating the first Cree language app, My Cree.[9]

One of her biggest influencers is Dr. Leroy Littlebear and his partner Amethyst Firstrider.[9]


Todd's film style actively challenges traditional documentary film form, since she recognizes how films she consumed while growing up, which were produced by the National Film Board of Canada, reproduced harmful racist stereotypes about aboriginal peoples.[1]

"With the Canadian documentary I had grown up with, there was a lot of stationary camera work, and as a Native person, I felt that the camera was peering in at us- that the films offered a space that allowed people to laugh at us."[1] "I would agree that the aesthetic definitely comes out of the experience of being in the story. However, as much as I'm trying to find a place to represent the story (the theme and the people who are a part of that story), I'm at the same time very conscious of commenting on what that story and their aesthetic mean to me. So I would have to say that I try to find a place for my voice. That might make my documentary style not different form anybody else's but definitely distinctly my own."[10]

As she learned film theory and technique, her work became increasingly politically charged with an activist mindset. Todd engages with the film form in a way that allows her to bring light to problematic aspects of traditionally documentary style and the oppression that she has personally experienced and is part of the present reality for many aboriginal peoples within Canada.[1] Todd's work seeks to shift the narrative about aboriginal peoples from a discourse of victim-hood and suffering, to resiliency and the ways in which individuals and communities are working to overcome the pain that is a result of systemic and continuous violence perpetrated against them. Todd is still actively involved with aboriginal activist work, even as her career has reached international acclaim she still directs minimal budget films for aboriginal groups.[1]

Todd has influenced the evolution of Vancouver as a hub of aboriginal film production. She has also served as a role model and mentor for other Canadian aboriginal women to join the industry. Her daughter Kamala Todd has chosen to pursue a career similar to her mother's, as a filmmaker, writer and activist. Todd is also a cultural scholar, writing scholarly articles and chapters for books, lecturing at educational institutions, contributing to art shows.[1][8]

While at Simon Fraser University in the late 1980s, Todd studied with theorist Kaja Silverman, experimental filmmaker Al Razutis and cinematographer John Houtman and soon began creating ambitious, formally innovative video installation works that reflected on her tribal identity and on the historical struggles of aboriginal peoples. One installation featured images projected onto Vancouver's Museum of Anthropology; with a long tracking shot, Todd set out to "liberate" sacred tribal objects entombed within.[6][7]

As a successful producer, she created Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show, a children's series about Indigenous science for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, in Canada. As well, she created Fierce Girls, a web-series for tweens about Indigenous female superheroes who fight racism and confront homelessness and mental health issues. She is in post with her first feature film Monkey Beach, based on the novel by Eden Robinson. Loretta also recently launched the IM4 Lab, an Indigenous virtual reality Lab.[6]

Loretta says she wants to be aspirational for native youth. Within the native community and literature there are a lot of Indigenous futurisms, which is looking at the future through science, through science fiction, through literature and through art. However, often that world is very dystopic. She wants to empower them to have agency in their life to make change. That is the real basis for her work.[6]


Social activism


Substance abuse

Aboriginal activist work

Social justice


Aboriginal narratives


Indigenous women

Indigenous superheros



  • Halfway House (1986), about a center for Native convicts released from prison.[11][7]
  • Breaking Camp (1989)[3]
  • Robes of Power (1989)[3]
  • Blue Neon (1989)[3]
  • The Storyteller in the City (1989)[3]
  • My Dad's DTs (Unfinished narrative film)[3]
  • Day Glo Wrestler (1990)[3]
  • Eagle Run (1990)[3]
  • The Healing Circle (1991)[3]
  • Taking Care of Our Own (1991)[3]
  • The Learning Path (1991)[3]
  • Hands of History (1994)[3]
  • Voice-Life (1995)[3]
  • No More Secrets (1996)[3]
  • Through the Lens: an Alternative Look at Filmmaking (1996)[12][7]
  • Forgotten Warriors (1997)[3]
  • Today is a Good Day (1999)[3]
  • Kainayssini Imanistaisiwa: The People Go On (2003)[2]
  • Tansi! Nehiyawetan (2011)[11][6]
  • Skye & Chang (2014)[11]
  • Coyote’s Crazy Smart Science Show (2017)[11][6]
  • Fierce Girls (2018)[13]
  • Monkey Beach (2020)[11][7]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Rockefeller Fellow, 1996[3]
  • ImagineNATIVE Lifetime Achievement Award[2]
  • Taos Mountain Award for Lifetime Achievement[1]
  • Sundance Scriptwriters Lab[3]
  • The Learning Path (1991), a residential schools documentary, combined historical and contemporary footage with recreated scenes. The film was commissioned as part of the series As Long as the Rivers Flow, produced by the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) and Tamarack Productions. This was Todd's first major production as director, writer and narrator, garnering for her a Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival, the New Visionary Award at the Two Rivers Film Festival, and a Blue Ribbon at the American Film and Video Festival.[12][6][11](1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8
  • Writer-director Todd was nominated for a Genie Award (Best Short Documentary) for Forgotten Warriors (1997),[11][12](1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8)
  • American Indian Film Festival: Winner for Best Live Short Subject for Skye & Chang (2013)[12][11][6]
  • Genie Awards: 1997 Nominee for Best Documentary Short Forgotten warriors (1997)[12][11][6]
  • Women in Film & Television Vancouver’s Spotlight Awards: Winner 2018 Innovation Award [12][11][6]

Praise and criticism[edit]

"Todd directed videos for Native advocacy groups, addressing problems such as solvent abuse in No More Secrets (1996), and drawing attention to HIV/AIDS patients in Voice-Life (1995)." [3]

"Her influence extends beyond her films. In 1993 she produced the CBC series The Four Directions and helped to establish the Aboriginal Film and Video Arts Alliance, an organization that encourages Native filmmakers. Active in developing Aboriginal media through her company Eagle Eye films, her filmmaking and mentoring have led to the development of the Vancouver area as a center for Native film- and video-making." [3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Silverman, Jason. "Uncommon Visions- The Films of Loretta Todd." Senses of Cinema. October 2002.
  2. ^ a b c Silverman, Jason. "Loretta Todd". Historica Canada. April 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Library and Archives Canada. Celebrating Women's Achievements. September 2010.
  4. ^ Dowell, Kristin L. "Sovereign Screen: Aboriginal Media on the Canadian West Coast." University of Nebraska Press. 2013.
  5. ^ "Loretta Todd | The Canadian Encyclopedia". www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Kalafatic, Carol (1999-01-31), "Keepers of the Power: Story as Covenant in the Films of Loretta Todd, Shelley Niro, and Christine Welsh", Gendering the Nation, University of Toronto Press, doi:10.3138/9781442675223-009, ISBN 9781442675223
  7. ^ a b c d e f Levitin, Jacqueline (2012-12-06). Women Filmmakers. doi:10.4324/9780203819418. ISBN 9780203819418.
  8. ^ a b Bishop, Neil B. (January 1990). "Aquin, Hubert. Writing Quebec (edited, with an Introduction, by Anthony Purdy). Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press, 1988". Canadian Modern Language Review. 46 (2): 378–379. doi:10.3138/cmlr.46.2.378. ISSN 0008-4506.
  9. ^ a b "Parker, Sir Alan (William), (born 14 Feb. 1944), film director and writer; Chairman, Film Council, 1999–2004", Who's Who, Oxford University Press, 2007-12-01, doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.u30049
  10. ^ Jacqueline Levitin; Judith Plessis; Valerie Raoul (eds.). Women filmmakers refocusing. ISBN 9780429235634. OCLC 1080586488.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Loretta Todd". IMDb. Retrieved 2019-03-26.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "Loretta Todd". Library and Archives Canada.
  13. ^ "Fierce Girls Webseries". Fierce Girls. Retrieved 2019-03-26.