How to Steal a Canoe is a quiet film, but there’s no mistaking its hushed tone for hesitance. There’s a strength behind every frame, a sense of defiance that can be heard in every word of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s poem, which narrates the short, and seen in every frame of Amanda Strong’s stop-motion animation. The story of a Nishnaabeg youth and elder rescuing a canoe from a museum’s collection, it’s a direct challenge to the western claim that other culture’s artifacts are educational items or historical curiousities. The duo may be taking the canoe from the museum’s collection, but it’s clear that the theft in the title happened long ago.
There’s a stillness to Strong’s animation that serves the film well. Her puppets wear inscrutable expressions, their movements kept to a minimum. They watch, and contemplate, and only move when they must. That stillness makes for a compelling contrast with the images of wet pitch dripping from a tree and smoke drifting up from the smudge—the natural world is flowing and alive, even as the man-made one feels more stilted.
The most striking thing about How to Steal a Canoe, though, is how well the three principle artists’ approaches complement each other. Simpson’s poetry, Cris Derksen’s music, and Strong’s animation are all singular, but they share that same calm defiance. Even without raising their voices, they simply demand to be heard.
How To Steal a Canoe
dir. Amanda Strong, 2016
How to Steal A Canoe is the story of a young Nishnaabeg woman and an elder Nishnaabeg man rescuing a canoe from a museum and returning it to the lake it was meant to be with. On a deeper level, we witness the act of stealing back the precious parts of us, that were always ours in the first place as Indigenous people.
The audio is the film conveys the story both through music and storytelling. Spoken lyrics recorded by Nishnaabeg poet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. The original score composed by Cree cellist Cris Derksen.