Sovereign Screens


Sovereign Screens

Aboriginal Media on the Canadian West Coast

Kristin L. Dowell

296 pages
23 photographs, 1 map, 1 appendix, index


April 2017


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April 2020


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December 2013


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eBook (PDF)
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December 2013


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About the Book

The first ethnography of the vibrant Aboriginal media community in Vancouver, Sovereign Screens uncovers the social forces shaping that community, including community media organizations and avant-garde art centers, as well as the national spaces of cultural policy and media institutions.

Kristin L. Dowell uses the concept of visual sovereignty to examine the practices, forms, and meanings through which Aboriginal filmmakers tell their individual stories and those of their Aboriginal nations and the intertribal urban communities in which they work. She explores the ongoing debates within the community about what constitutes Aboriginal media, how this work intervenes in the national Canadian mediascape, and how filmmakers use technology in a wide range of genres—including experimental media—to recuperate cultural traditions and reimagine Aboriginal kinship and sociality. Analyzing the interactive relations between this social community and the media forms it produces, Sovereign Screens offers new insights into the on-screen and off-screen impacts of Aboriginal media. 

Author Bio

Kristin L. Dowell is an associate professor of anthropology at Florida State University. She is a visual anthropologist who has worked as a film curator at several Native film festivals.


“An accessible, thoughtful exploration of the important contributions Aboriginal media arts offer to Indigenous media studies, experimental and avant-garde media arts, and Indigenous sovereignty.”—Bernard C. Perley, American Ethnologist

“Establishes a persuasive narrative of the development of an influential aspect of Aboriginal culture.”—Roy Todd, British Journal of Canadian Studies

Sovereign Screens validates film as a powerful engine that drives self-determination through visual sovereignty, a returning to ourselves that can unite Aboriginal and all peoples through the shared experience of cinema.”—Grace L. Dillon, Pacific Historical Review

“[A] beautifully detailed ethnography of Vancouver’s growing Aboriginal media hub. . . . Dowell convincingly argues that Aboriginal media is an act of visual sovereignty.”—Jennifer Kramer, author of Switchbacks: Art, Ownership, and Nuxalk National Identity 

“Nowhere is Aboriginal media more active, more vibrant, and more significant than in Canada. . . . The efforts of small, underfunded, ambitious, and creative groups of filmmakers in Vancouver make for an engaging story. . . . This is a clear, useful, and well-researched book.”—Michael Evans, author of Fast Runner: Filming the Legend of Atanarjuat


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: Vancouver's Aboriginal Media World
1. The Indigenous Media Arts Group
2. Canadian Cultural Policy and Aboriginal Media
3. Aboriginal Diversity On-Screen
4. Building Community Off-Screen
5. Cultural Protocol in Aboriginal Media
6. Visual Sovereignty in Aboriginal Experimental Media
Appendix: Filmmakers and Films

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