Inuvik’s Sunrise festival was many different things for many different people, but for Mozhdah Jamalzadah one thing stood out among all else.
“This is one of the rare communities in the entire world that’s matriarchal. I think that’s why there’s so much spiritual wisdom and so much calm, caring and love,” she said. “It must be mind boggling for indigenous people to see women being treated so horrifically in much of the Islamist communities.”
An Afghanistan-born women’s rights activist-turned-broadcaster-turned-singer-songwriter-turned-actress, Jamalzadah was in town with co-star Shafin Karim Jan. 4-5 for two screenings of the upcoming film Red Snow
Written by Marie Clements and starring Asivak Koostachin, both who are part-Gwich’in, the film tells a story of a Gwich’in warrior serving in the Canadian Forces who gets caught up with an Afghan family trying to get out from under the thumb of the Taliban. Referencing back to the social issues and traditional knowledge the warrior grew up with in Northern Canada, he and the family of three find a deep connection as they fight to survive in a war zone.
“Every time I watch the movie, I see the humanity alliance Marie has built and the throes of cultural exchange in their journey together,” said Karim. “I think that’s what drew all of us to the script. It was so rare to find a story that teaches about the indigenous world and ties it into another culture. It was really inspiring.
“Each time you watch the movie, you get something else.”
Filmed in Kamloops, Cache Creek and Yellowknife, the film casts a lot of extras from communities across the north. One observant audience member noted a cameo from elder Lillian Elias.
One of the more rewarding parts of the film was exploring the language, with actors speaking Gwich’in, Inuktituk and Pashto throughout the film. Karim, who originally hails from Tanzania, noted he learned a lot about both Gwich’in and Pashtun culture.
Jamalzadah, who escaped Afghanistan with her family when she was five, only knew Dari, the other national language of Afghanistan, so exploring new languages and cultures was also a big reward for her on her first acting role. One thing that struck her was the small amount of Gwich’in speakers in the world, at roughly only 1,200 world-wide.
Better known as the “Oprah of Afghanistan”, Jamalzadah was actually handpicked by Clements for the role nine years ago when the project was first conceived. Jamalzadah’s main work is both as a singer-songwriter, writing protest songs for women in her motherland, and hosting a talk show speaking about historically taboo subjects in Afghanistan such as family violence and corporeal punishment, empowering women to take back their own lives.
“I used media as a tool to try to bring a change into that country, and I’ve been very successful because I use music,” she said. “Through protest lyrics, I promote women’s rights and issues and raise awareness about them.
“I think we could do the same thing with indigenous cultures. After working with Marie, I’m determined to work with indigenous communities more to promote the language and culture.”
But for her, the biggest reward of being in the project was meeting Grand Chief Bobbi Jo Greenland.
“Because I have read so much about indigenous culture,I have been wanting my whole life to meet a Chief,” she Jamalzadah. “I am so honoured to be in her presence.
“And she’s a female!”