Taietsarón:sere “Tai” Leclaire has felt at a loss for words in the face of casual racism.
The Kahnawa’kehró:non pieced together dozens upon dozens of real-life incidents to form the narrative for Headdress, which was featured in the short film category at the Sundance Film Festival.
Starring in his film, Leclaire witnesses a white person wearing a traditional headdress at a weekend festival, triggering a chain of possible answers to the situation.
The 10-minute film delves into a confusing internal dialogue as the character navigates the various interpretations of what he just witnessed and along with it, the various ways to respond and react. Analyzing all of their intricacies, the pros and cons, whys and why-nots, reveals to Leclaire the different version of himself, one leaning on the traditional side, compelled to take a stand, while the other is unaffected by those portrayals of ignorance and insult.
“It’s really about balancing all those voices trying to figure out, what should I do?” said Leclaire. “I really feel like within comedy there’s a little bit more space to tell a story and to have more fun in the process.”
Coming from a comedy background, Leclaire felt the satirical approach to be a natural way in broaching a sensitive but all-too-common reality for many Indigenous folks.
“When you’re in situations like that, it is not up to you to be the ‘hero.’ But you don’t have to be the person to have to step up. You’re allowed to be insecure, you’re allowed to have this inner dialogue of conflict,” he said. “Being insecure and being a little indecisive and having trouble finding those words is okay. And it’s a common problem we all have.”
Headdress is one of 64 shorts films that made the cut for the festival out of just under 11,000 submissions – less than one percent of films are selected.
“Tai’s film really stood out, one, because I thought it was a really great comedy, and also I think it has a lot of style to it in particular too,” said Adam Piron, director of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous program and part of the short-film programming team.
“What we generally look for are fresh original voices, people that are telling interesting stories, or stories that we haven’t necessarily seen or heard before, maybe in a different way as well,” he added.
But more than the thrill of exhibiting his film at the Sundance Film Festival – the first festival Leclaire’s gotten into – was the excitement in gathering a diverse pool of creators sharing a milestone together. A speech by Amy Redford in particular left a lasting impression on Leclaire.
“She gave a speech that was just incredibly validating and incredibly wonderful to hear,” he said. “It just felt so validating as a filmmaker to be in that room, because I don’t think before that moment I called myself a filmmaker because I’ve always found myself outside looking in.”
Peppered with fluke run-ins with friends old and new, shuttle rides to premiere screenings, the feeling of excitement was one in abundance over Leclaire’s week-long attendance at the festival. “Sundance is a marathon. So I really enjoyed all the moments in between all these events,” he said.
Holding the event in person again after two years was a highlight for many.
“It was really great to be on the ground and just engage with people,” said Piron. “I think this year’s festival, along with the works and people being able to interact with other audience members or the artists in person after the films or just in that environment, was something that was really impactful,” he said.
Now based in Los Angeles, Leclaire is shuffling between two scripts to take on as his next film. As an independent filmmaker, a significant consideration for production is financial feasibility. For him, it boils down to one question: “What can we get done on a tiny budget while still telling a great story and have it visually look great?”