The Art & Activism of Robert Davidson
Portrait of Haida artist, Robert Davidson, whose art and activism point the way towards a renewed connection with the natural world, perhaps saving us from ourselves.
Directed by Charles Wilkinson
Produced by Tina Schliessler, Kevin Eastwood, Murray Battle
Editors: Tina Schliessler, Charles Wilkinson
Music: Charles Wilkinson
A Shore Films Production
Haida artist Robert Davidson is one of the foremost cultural icons of the age. HAIDA MODERN features candid and revealing conversations with the artist himself, along with commentary from art historians, politicians, musicians and family members detailing the importance and impact of Davidson's work. Highlighted in these conversations is the story of how Davidson carved the first totem pole raised on the island of Haida Gwaii in over 100 years — a spiritual and political act credited with sparking a reawakening of Indigenous culture in the Pacific Northwest.
"Visually gorgeous, exquisitely paced, and immensely informative on so many levels."
Peter Nabokov, Prof. World Arts & Cultures, UCLA
In HAIDA MODERN, we see how Indigenous and non-Indigenous citizens alike—inspired by Davidson's art—are coming together to forge political movements led by Indigenous activists and artists, fighting the critical environmental battles of our time. That is the great and enduring power of Robert Davidson's 14,000 year old indigenous Haida culture: the power of an art so beautiful, it must be seen over and again.
Grade Level: 7 - 12, College, Adults
US Release Date: 2020
Copyright Date: 2019
DVD ISBN: 1-948745-48-8
"This stunningly beautiful film about the most brilliant living Northwest Coast First Nations artist - and among the most distinguished 20th century sculptors - both brought tears to my eyes and filled me with joy. Masterfully interweaving artistic development and reflectively honest autobiography with the Haida's painful past and optimistic future, it reveals Davidson's depth, vision, humor and humanity. It also contributes to the contemporary decolonization movement with his powerful responses to residential schools, rapacious clear-cut logging on Haida Gwaii and the current global warming crisis. This is a film everyone should not only watch but contemplate how art can contribute to a better world."
Aldona Jonaitis, Director Emerita, Museum of the North, University of Alaska-Fairbanks, Author, Art of the Northwest Coast
"An incredible and touching narrative of an Indigenous artist who transformed himself, his community, Northwest Coast Native arts, and Native American arts and markets...Robert Davidson expresses clearly a love for his people and Haida Modern takes an inside look into how knowledge, power, and beauty are passed from one generation to the next, from the ancient masters to the masters of today to the masters of tomorrow. Davidson also reflects on the turmoils of the current state of the world and how Indigenous stewardship and respect are vital to securing a viable future where the world is protected for future generations. Throughout it all, a bright future seems entirely possible."
X'unei Lance Twitchell, Associate Professor of Alaska Native Languages, University of Alaska Southeast
"Haida Modern leaves you inclined to believe Davidson when he surmises that art may just possess the power to save us from ourselves."
Vancouver International Film Festival
"Visually gorgeous, exquisitely paced, and immensely informative on so many levels...From the wondrous extreme close-ups of brush and steel edge creating those fine lines that are a hallmark of one of the world's great artistic traditions, to Robert Davidson's generous, candid autobiographical account of his family tradition and maturing into his own master-status, Haida Modern illuminates so much - frame within frame within frame. We learn of Haida culture, their tribal history, their cultural suppression by Canadian church and state, and their endurance and resistance. This astonishing art tradition, its powerful singularity yet inherent capacity to embrace innovations such as Davidson has so responsibly attempted is given generous and beautiful display in a remarkable film."
Peter Nabokov, Anthropologist, Professor of World Arts and Cultures, University of California - Los Angeles, Author, A Forest of Time: American Indian Ways of
"This beautiful film gives a rich introduction to Robert Davidson's work, showcasing his exquisite technique and constant innovation, but it does a lot more than that: demonstrates that the entanglement between art, cultural identity and the assertion of Indigenous sovereignty has been a constant, vital and innovating presence in Haida Gwaii. The film brings in powerful glimpses of colonial forces, including missionization, residential schools, land theft, environmental devastation and cultural appropriation and the intergenerational trauma they inflicted. It will work well as an introduction to Native art in a survey course or as an entrée into Northwest Coast art in a Native-focused class."
Elizabeth Hutchinson, Professor of American Art History, Barnard College/Columbia University
"Haida Modern beautifully explores how Robert Davidson brought Haida culture back to its people...[It] cleverly and beautifully lays out a deeper argument."
Marsha Lederman, Globe and Mail
"This quietly persuasive film chronicles the life, family, and art of the most celebrated living Northwest Coast artist, Robert Davidson. It is also an eloquent and beautiful meditation on stewardship of the land, the aesthetic continuities between natural forms and Haida artistic forms, and the links between artistry and activism."
Janet Catherine Berlo, Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies, University of Rochester, Author, Native North American Art
"Fascinating, entertaining and eye-opening."
Dana Gee, Vancouver Sun
"Haida Modern is a scenic, educational journey into Haida Art. This documentary can be used in high school and college classrooms as a foundation for Pacific Northwest Coast Art curriculum. It is a perfect example of bringing the past to the present and explaining Haida history and culture through the work of Robert Davidson."
Melissa Leal, Ohlone/Costanoan Esselen Nation, Instructor of Social Science and Anthropology, Sierra College
Jennifer Van Evra, CBC Radio
"Spending pandemic lockdown in his White Rock studio, artist Robert Davidson sees the world playing out one of the main messages in Haida Modern...Davidson sees the pandemic as nature hitting the pause button, throwing us into a state of 'iihldaa, the Haida word for 'transformation'...'Nature keeps being the victim,' Davidson laments, pre-COVID-19, in the film...'I am very concerned for the state of western culture.'"
Janet Smith, The Georgia Straight
"This intimate, humanist portrait of Robert Davidson helps cement his well-earned place in the pantheon of important and influential artists of the past century. It provides insight into Davidson's artistic development within complex and overlapping contexts: changing family relationships; his integration of nineteenth-century Haida art and modernism; the growth of a market for Northwest Coast art; the lasting effects of colonial assimilation policies; and First Nations' struggles for environmental justice, sovereignty, and reconciliation. The feature-length documentary is helpfully divided into titled, thematic chapters that can be used in community settings or classrooms focusing on global art history, First Nations Studies, and Canadian history."
Aaron Glass, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Museum Studies, and Indigenous Arts, Bard Graduate Center, Bard College
|Reduced rates for activist and grassroots groups. Please inquire.
DVD includes optional English SDH captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, and scene selection
Awards and Festivals
Most Popular Canadian Documentary, Vancouver International Film Festival
Best Canadian Work, International Festival of Films on Art
Audience Choice Award, Available Light Film Festival
Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capital
Portland International Film Festival
Kamloops Film Festival
Victoria Film Festival
Forests and Rainforests
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"Robert Davidson is a giant whose brilliantly elegant design and exquisite craftsmanship awaken an appreciation of nature's magnificent interconnectivity. Haida Modern provides a welcome window into Davidson's culturally specific aesthetic and activism that have played an enormous role in strengthening the international recognition of indigenous artists."
Mark Dean Johnson, Professor of Art, San Francisco State University