Elle-Máijá Apiniskim Tailfeathers is a Blackfoot and Sámi actor, producer, filmmaker and curatorial assistant from the Kainai First Nation.
Tailfeathers was born to a Sámi father and a Blackfoot mother. Her parents met at a global indigenous peoples' conference in Australia, and married soon afterwards.
She divides her time between Vancouver Canada, the Blood Reserve and Sapmi territory in Norway.
Tailfeathers studied acting at the Vancouver Film School, and graduated in 2006. She then moved on to the University of British Columbia where she would graduate with a degree in First Nations Studies and a minor in Women and Gender studies in 2011.
After acting for a period of time, Tailfeathers shifted her filmmaking focus onto behind the camera work. During her time at the University of British Columbia she started to use film equipment and editing software.
Awards and recognition
She has won and been nominated for awards at various international film festivals, and has been recognized for her work rooted in social justice. Notable recognition has included receiving a Kodak Image Award, the Vancouver Mayor's Arts Award as an emerging filmmaker. She is included in CBC's "Young Indigenous Leaders: 5 Under 30 To Watch in 2015." Her autobiographical short film Rebel (Bihttoš) was named one of the Top Ten short films at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. It was also awarded best documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2015. In 2017, Tailfeathers won a Canadian Screen Award for best actress for a dramatic program or limited series for her work in the CBC movie Unclaimed, as well as an award for best performance at the Vancouver Women in Film Festival.
At the 2019 Vancouver International Film Festival, Tailfeathers and her co-director Kathleen Hepburn received the $25,000 Best BC Film Award for their film The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open. Tailfeathers also won the $17,500 BC Emerging Filmmaker Award.
Themes and issues
Her work has garnered attention for its focus on representations of women of colour, and her thematic focus on First Nations subjects and issues. Tailfeathers explores "innovative means of telling stories through mediums including narrative fiction, docudrama, documentary, mockumentary, and experimental film." Her film projects are usually fully staffed with Indigenous cast and production members, reflecting her emphasis on engaging with First Nations and Indigenous filmmakers.
One of her primary focuses as a filmmaker is activism and social justice and approaches film as a way to "use it as a form of nonviolent direct action against issues like violence against women and degradation of Indigenous land." Her film and activist pursuits focus on issues that directly relate to and affect Indigenous women and communities.
Tailfeathers is active in advocating for issues affecting First Nations communities. In 2011, she was arrested for a participating in a peaceful blockade at the entrance of a drilling site in the Blood Reserve in Alberta.
Bloodland (2011) is an experimental short film that offers a commentary on fracking practices in Canada and across the world. It can be found on YouTube, where it was made public in 2013 in solidarity with the Idle No More movement. The short film uses metaphoric imagery of a woman being held down and drilled into as a comment on the current fracking practices in Canada. This project was funded by the Blood Tribe Chief and Council through a distribution cheque, and as a result was indirectly funded by the proceeds of various gas and oil companies, as well as KRI Resources. The film was well received at its premier in Lethbridge, and was the subject of a greater national debate regarding the practice of fracking in Indigenous lands.
Official selection of:
- Vancouver International Film Festival 2011
- ImagineNATIVE Film Festival 2011
- American Indian Film Festival 2011
- L.A. Skins Festival 2011
- Tulsa International Film Festival 2011
- Yellowknife International Film Festival 2011
- Riddu Riđđu International Indigenous Peoples Festival 2011 (Norway)
- Vancouver Indigenous Media Arts Festival 2011
- Skábmagovvat Film Festival 2012 (Finland)
- Vancouver Women in Film Festival 2012
A Red Girl's Reasoning
A Red Girl's Reasoning (2012) is a short film that was created in response to the growing numbers of murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada. This film centres around a survivor of sexual assault and her quest to bring justice to the attackers of her fellow women. While originally a short film, it is currently in the process of expanding into a feature film. This film was the winner of the 2012 Vancouver Crazy8s Competition, where filmmakers were challenged to create a film in under eight days.
Rebel (Bihttoš) is an experimental and unconventional documentary where a young woman (Tailfeathers) explores her complex "relationship with her father through an examination of family photos and the family lore surrounding her parents’ courtship and marriage." Bihttoš combines "animation, re-enactments, and archival photos, [and] delves into the dissolution of her parents' mythic love story and how it has coloured her perception of love in her adult life."
Bihttoš first screened at the imagineNATIVE film festival in 2014.
cəsnaʔəm, the city before the city
cəsnaʔəm, the city before the city (2017) is a feature film on the history of the land in the area which is now known as Vancouver. Made in partnership with Musqueam First Nation, the film was part of a larger exhibition put on in partnership with the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, the Museum of Vancouver and the Musqueam Cultural Centre.
The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open
Co-directed with Kathleen Hepburn, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2019.