Exhibition Poster

Screening Series: Thirza Cuthand, Reclamations

Curated by:
Rhonda L. Meier

Thirza Cuthand: Reclamations brings together a selection of work by this acclaimed artist, writer, and performer spanning over two decades and exploring with brutal honesty the humour and pathos in her life as a ‘bipolar butch lesbian of Plains Cree and Scottish descent.’   Since her first film about life as a lesbian in her Saskatoon high school drew international success, her short, low-budget, experimental videos explore autobiography and identity, the effects of racism and colonization, sexism, ageism, and issues surrounding mental health.

Beginning at 4 pm on Tuesday February 9th, 16th, and 23rd, selected  videos by Cuthand will be available for 48 hours.

Following the screening on February 23rd, Thirza will present her work and answer questions via a Zoom link available here.

Featured artists:
Thirza Cuthand

Thirza Cuthand: Reclamations Screening Series Review

By Olivia Joffre

Thirza Cuthand works with videography as her main art form. Throughout her work we can see her use of innovative video and audio styles change to suit the needs of each specific projects. The work involved in Thirza’s video Sight is deliberately disorienting, and her strong storytelling is what fills in the intentional blanks of the film. Sight was made to be a shared experience in not only the form of a story but also in the form of our senses being altered, in this case by partially obstructing our sight with sharpie lines that dance throughout the video. Thirza’s work shows her life experiences and hardships through the lens of being someone who didn’t necessarily fit into society’s expectations, You Are a lesbian Vampire is a great example of this. It shows Thirza’s use of humour and diversity of film style, creating a serious and unique piece on the similarities between the lesbian dating scene and the vampire dating scene. Thirza’s work is special in the sense that it engages viewers in a world that they may not be familiar with and immerses them in it so deeply that they leave with a personal connection. Her work disrupts the boundaries between art, storytelling, and our own embodied experiences.

Thanks to Gwen Baddeley for editing and encouragement.

Questions for Thirza

Olivia Joffre and Camille Mota interview with Thirza Cuthand - February 26th 2021

OJ For your work You Are a lesbian Vampire, what was your inspiration to create the dialog in the piece?

TC I actually wrote the monologue for it way before I shot it. I think, ten years before I filmed it. I wrote it when I was still probably doing my undergrad. Basically, I think what I was thinking of is this sort of obsession I had when I was a teenager with Vampires. So, there is actually this tradition in film industry history with these lesbian vampires that keep coming up, and also, I have a project in the future that has a lesbian vampire in it. The thing about vampires is that they kind of have parallels with the queer life of being in the shadows and having a second life and this vampire who’s also living this kind of life in the shadows and hiding. It’s kind of like living a different lifestyle. I think that’s what it’s talking about. Also, I mean in a way dating in the lesbian community, like it’s really small and you’ll see your exes everywhere. You know, you can’t get away from them and you kind of have to come to terms with that and accept that your life is in this community that is very tight-knit and that you’ll probably have slept with at least a few of them.

OJ When you were starting as artist did you ever feel limited by the resources that you had?

TC Yeah, I mean I felt limited. I think I was trying to work within most limits because it was a lot of punk DIY, like really rough videos, which kind of appealed to me. I think at the same time, now that I have more gear and more access to funding it’s just been really nice to see projects actually have more material support and more crew sometimes. Just more people working on them. Like, the last piece I was working on, I did have the FX people working with me on it and stuff and that was really interesting. There’s another piece I did with the NFB called Woman Dress that definitely had a lot more funding and that was really nice to see. It was kind of like what I could do when there is sort of a team supporting me instead of just myself. At the same time, like I said I still feel a soft feeling for those videos where it sort of was myself with a camcorder.

OJ Do you have any recurring themes in your work that you try to convey to your audience, does your theme change with every piece?

TC I usually have many but I notice sometimes they’ve been grouped within certain time periods around a similar theme. Last year I made two videos: one video installation and one video that were both about kind of the same thing but in different ways. They were both about this medicine bundle in my family, but also like taking that in two different directions. With my films Less Lethal Fetishes and Extractions and Reclamation, they were all kind of talking about the future and extractive industries and sort of complicity and stuff, but they took it in different directions and actually those films became like a trilogy called The Indian’s Survival Trilogy but it only became a trilogy because a festival asked me to make it into a trilogy so they could meet their premiere

requirements ‘cause suddenly it was a European premiere. I think there are definitely themes I go through, but I think they’re like phases in my life that I’ll go through different themes. Definitely, talking about being a youth was more something I was dealing with when I was actually a youth. Although, there is still a part of me that wants to go back and revisit queer youth and what that means to me.

CM Do you think that where you were raised has impacted the films you make? Would they have been different if you grew up somewhere different?

TC A lot of the films I make are tied to my hometown and my experiences growing up with racism. For example, my prairie video art was foundational in some way.

CM Has filmmaking and exploring your identity allowed you to appreciate and understand yourself better?

TC Getting into film and video has made me learn new things. It has given me self-esteem to carry out these projects. They are part of my life and have made life more interesting and given me the ability to explore the world. Filmmaking has been a good experience for me, but it can be difficult when I am making films and am faced with criticism, I struggle with ego.

CM How do you portray mental illness without straying into Hollywood stereotypes of “crazy people”?

TC My work comes from lived experiences, gathering friends’ experiences, and from experiences that are genetic in my family. I take into account these perspectives and the ways I have seen other people treat my parents and I use these in a way that is not trying to romanticize them.

Today's Video Screenings

This round of screening has ended. Please check the schedule below for the next screening date and time.

Screening Schedule

4 pm, Tuesday, Feb 9    (total running time 16 min.)
 1.  Thirza Cuthand is an Indian Within the Meaning of the Indian Act    (8:56 min.)

Contemplating mixed race identity in Canada, Cuthand presents images of indigenous ties to blood and land.  Situating her own body in historical trauma and ongoing colonialism, Cuthand questions the terms ‘white passing,’ and ‘light skinned,’ showing how racism and discrimination happen to her differently. 

2.  Just Dandy    (7:38 min)

Invited to speak at an Indigenous Revolutionary Meeting, the narrator describes an intimate encounter with an Evil Colonizing Queen which leads to Turtle Island's contraction of an invasive European flora.

4 pm, Tuesday, Feb 16    (16 min.)
 1.  Sight    (3:33 min)

Super 8 footage layered and obscured with Sharpie lines and circles illustrates the story of the filmmaker’s experience with temporary episodes of migraine-related blindness and her cousin’s self-induced blindness later in life.  Paralleling the experience of blindness with mental illness, Cuthand deftly shows how any of us could lose any of our abilities at any time.

2.  You are a Lesbian Vampire    (3:17 min.)

In the dark night of an unnamed city, a vampire considers her future with a fetching mortal.  But requiring blood for sustenance brings a host of problems to the relationship.

3.  Love and Numbers    (9:00 min.)

A Two Spirited woman surrounded by spy signals and psychiatric walls attempts to make sense of love, global paranoia, and her place in the history of colonialism.  Spliced inbetween her monologues are the binary codes of all the psychiatric drugs she has taken.

4 pm, Tuesday, Feb 23    (total time 25 min.)
 1.  Extractions    (15:12 min.)

A personal film about the detrimental effects of Canada's extraction industry on the land and Indigenous peoples.  It parallels resource extraction with the booming child apprehension industry in Canada, which has placed more Indigenous children into foster care than Residential Schools.  As Cuthand reviews her life and how these industries have affected her, she also reflects on having her own eggs retrieved and frozen to make an Indigenous baby.

2.  Long Form Lesbian Census    (4:21 min.)

Increasingly invasive questions are asked of a series of lesbians to complete the Longform Lesbian Census.  A playful look at the current state of lesbian lives.

3.  2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com    (4:56 min.)

2 Spirit Dreamcatcher Dot Com queers and indigenizes traditional dating site advertisements.  A Butch NDN 'lavalife’ lady performed by Cuthand), presents why it is the culturally appropriate website all single 2 Spirit people wish existed. Following up on her video 2 Spirit Introductory Special $19.99, this work examines the forces of capitalism through envisioning a ‘financially unfeasible’ service for Canadian indigenous people seeking love and hookups.

Last Modified: June 21, 2021