Berlin Hidden Gem: Dystopian Thriller 'Night  Raiders' Uses the Sci-Fi Genre to Confront Canada's Troubled Past

Brooklyn Letexier-Hart and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers in Night Raiders.
Courtesy of Elevation Pictures

Brooklyn Letexier-Hart and Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers in 'Night Raiders.'

In her feature debut, executive produced by Oscar-winning 'Jojo Rabbit' writer-director Taika Waititi, Indigenous filmmaker Danis Goulet examines Canada’s past colonization and subjugation of its First Nation peoples.

Danis Goulet’s Night Raiders, executive produced by Oscar-winning Jojo Rabbit writer-director Taika Waititi, is no typical sci-fi  thriller.

An entry in this year’s Berlin Film Festival’s Panorama section and Goulet’s feature debut, the film flips the genre on its head by using the future to confront Canada’s past colonization and subjugation of its First Nation peoples.

"I found it incredibly liberating and a lot of fun. You’re really not constrained by reality," Goulet tells THR about her bleak dystopian tale of a Cree woman, played by actress-director Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, who joins underground vigilantes known as night raiders to free her daughter (Brooklyn Letexier-Hart) from an oppressive state school run by a dominant "far-right faction" in a post-civil-war North America.

Goulet, who identifies as Cree and Metis (of Indigenous and Euro-American ancestry), says her use of sci-fi genre tropes will immediately resonate with Indigenous moviegoers. "Indigenous audiences can easily think of themselves as the rebels fighting the [evil] empire," the filmmaker explains.

She adds that referencing real historical events in a futuristic space will allow non-Indigenous audiences to see in Night Raiders’ military-occupied North America, circa 2043, the legacy of Canada’s past "residential schools," where Indigenous kids were taken from their parents, and the reserves where First Nation peoples were marginalized.

"The notion of even imagining ourselves in the future can be a very powerful act, especially when in the creation of Canada we [First Nations] were not supposed to exist in the future," Goulet argues. "These are serious things that any colonized country should really be grappling with: how they were founded upon the attempted genocide of Indigenous people. But when you work in the genre space, in a funny way, you can hit your message harder, because in fiction you’re allowed to embellish."

Adds Night Raiders producer Tara Woodbury, "Sci-fi is an amazing genre to Trojan-horse issues we may find difficult to talk about."

Goulet sees the sci-fi storytelling portal as an opportunity to allow her Indigenous characters, especially women and children, to emerge as proud victors and no longer silenced victims. "Every character’s arc has them coming out of just getting by to really finding their voice and finding their place," she explains.

With Goulet’s friends Waititi and producer Ainsley Gardiner playing a key role in bringing on the New Zealand Film Commission as a co-producer (the cast includes Maori actor Alex Tarrant), Night Raiders is part of a larger effort in Canada to support new film voices. Telefilm Canada, the country’s largest film financier, which invests about $100  million a year in homegrown movies, is increasingly backing films by creators from Canada’s underrepresented Black, Indigenous and POC communities to foster greater inclusivity and diversity.

Recent Indigenous projects backed by Telefilm include Tailfeathers’ Kiimaapiipitsin, a documentary about opiate addiction on a First Nations reserve.

With additional funding from provincial investment agency Ontario Creates, Night Raiders will be on offer at the upcoming European Film Market in Berlin, where it will be repped by XYZ Films.

"This is just the beginning," says Christa Dickenson, executive director of Telefilm Canada. "As we continue our efforts to elevate a diversity of storytellers, we can expect to celebrate more successes like this one."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.