The Power and the Sound

The Power and the Sound is an experimental documentary that aims to connect two seemingly disparate elements of contemporary Cree culture: the legacy of forced relocation and traditional fiddle music.

Using fragments of news broadcasts, black and white video, personal interviews, and gorgeous landscape images, The Power and the Sound is a quiet, respectful piece that allows the participants to shape and frame both the story and rhythm of the film. It was shot on location in Chisasibi, Quebec and begins by detailing how native Cree communities of the James Bay region were displaced by an unprecedented hydro-electrical development that currently provides power for much of the province and parts of the United States. That project required the diversion of multiple rivers, flooding thousands of square miles of land and substantially changing the flow of the La Grande river which was home to a Cree community on the island of Fort George. In 1981 they were told that erosion would gradually destroy the island and were forced to abandon it and build new homes on shore.

Fort George had stood for hundreds of years and was a unique place of multicultural exchange: beginning in the 1700s, Scottish traders from the Hudson’s Bay Company began buying furs from native Crees. Some of those traders integrated with the Cree community, introducing elements of Scottish culture that persist to this day, most notably Scottish fiddle music. Through hundreds of years of independent development, the Cree have developed their own sound and style, but based on tunes that haven’t been played in Scotland in over 100 years.

The traces and legacy of white colonialism are evident throughout Cree territory in Quebec and this short film reveals how three generations of Cree fiddlers are dealing with that legacy. James Stewart, Harry House, and Derwin Pachano share stories about their lives in Chisasibi and perform their music in their homes. Through these stories and performances we come to understand that the act of passing on a tradition is often parallel—or even entangled—with intergenerational trauma.

Year2015Film FestivalShortlist
Manuel Rivera-Ortiz Foundation
for Documentary Film