2023 MacDowell Medalist

Discipline: Film/Video – documentary

Alanis Obomsawin

Discipline: Film/Video – documentary
Region: Montréal, CANADA

A member of the Abenaki Nation and one of Canada’s most distinguished filmmakers, Alanis Obomsawin is a director and producer at the National Film Board of Canada, where she has worked since 1967.

Join us on July 23, 2023 to celebrate!

Coming in 2023, her latest film is Wabano: The Light of Day, an intimate look at the first Indigenous Wellness Centre built by and for Indigenous people in Canada.

It’s Ms. Obomsawin’s 56th film in a legendary career spanning 56 years, devoted to chronicling the lives and concerns of First Nations people and exploring issues of importance to all. Her 2022 film Bill Reid Remembers was recently named to the short film program of Canada’s Top Ten, honoring the best in Canadian cinema.

Read our announcement of the 63rd Annual Edward MacDowell Medal

She is a Companion of the Order of Canada (C.C.), Grande Officière of the Ordre national du Québec (G.O.Q.), and a member of the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec (C.A.L.Q.), as well as holding other distinctions. In June 2023, Obomsawin received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Toronto — her 13th honorary degree.

From April 7 to August 6, 2023, the Vancouver Art Gallery will present “The Children Have to Hear Another Story – Alanis Obomsawin,” an exhibition tracing Obomsawin’s artistic activism over five decades, first shown at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin in 2022. An accompanying book, Alanis Obomsawin: Lifework (eds. Richard William Hill, Hila Peleg, and HKW), has been published in English by Prestel.

In 2021, the Toronto International Film Festival presented Obomsawin with the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media, recognizing leadership in creating a union between social impact and cinema, along with a career retrospective entitled “Celebrating Alanis.”

In 2020, Obomsawin received the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award at the DOC Institute Honours, given to an individual who embodies the creative spirit of the Canadian documentary tradition and displays generosity by supporting the next generation of doc-makers through mentorship, as well as the Glenn Gould Prize, presented once every two years to recognize a unique lifetime contribution that has enriched the human condition through the arts.

Ms. Obomsawin’s 2019 production Jordan River Anderson, The Messenger completed a seven-film cycle devoted to the rights of Indigenous children and peoples, which began in 2011 when she conducted her first interviews for The People of the Kattawapiskak River.

Obomsawin’s body of work includes such landmark films as Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance (1993), documenting the 1990 Mohawk uprising in Kanehsatake and Oka, as well as her groundbreaking Incident at Restigouche (1984), a behind-the-scenes look at Quebec police raids on a Mi’kmaq reserve.

Portrait by Scott Stevens

Read a 2019 profile in Montecristo Magazine here.

Read the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's announcement of her winning the Edward MacDowell Medal here.