Sarah is exploring cinema’s potential to transform public consciousness on Indigenous representations, struggles, and cosmopolitics through a cinema of self-representation. She is working with the Video in the Villages project in Brazil to research how the poetics of Indigenous film and video are producing sovereignty on and off screen.

Research Description

Cinema’s capacity to embody a diversity of (cosmo)political, sovereign, and cultural expressions through self-representation is evidenced in the archive of the "Video nas aldeias" (VNA), Video in the Villages project in Brazil. My interdisciplinary research is largely based on field research at VNA, attending film festivals, and interviews and exchanges with filmmakers and VNA members about the current state of Indigenous cinema in Brazil. My study of Indigenous Brazilian cinema(s) seeks to unsettle the film canon while broadening the discussion on cinematic culture at large. I use cosmopolitics and representational/ visual sovereignty (Raheja/ Graham) as overarching concepts to think through and analyze the “embedded aesthetics” (Ginsburg) of Indigenous film and video at VNA. My research engages cinema’s potential to be a public educational, philosophical, and (cosmo)political resource with the power to stimulate and transform public consciousness and debate on the struggle and representations of Indigenous peoples on and off screen.

What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?

Understanding cinematic culture and media in all of its multi-vocal diversity as a public asset, as integral to public education, public debate and discourse is part of my engagement as a public scholar. Fostering media pluralism as a way of defending marginalized voices and disseminating Indigenous teachings promotes an anti-colonial gaze that counters the racist, sexist stereotypes often reproduced in dominant media. My study of how Indigenous cinema in Brazil is part of a political resistance and revitalization of cultural practices and inter-generational and inter-tribal dialogues connects to public debate on representations of Indigenous people in a global context. My public work as a film programmer and educator, as well as my public presentations in conferences and film festivals, aims to facilitate and promote public engagement and nuanced debate on complex issues of self-representation, political consciousness, including Indigenous cosmopolitics which challenge the separation between nature and culture.

In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?

Public engagement and the practice of professionalizing research and skills as part of the PhD are reshaping the academy’s and the public’s understanding of the PhD and its potential in a larger sphere. As a student, I am able to strategize how to effectively reach the various stakeholders of my research, i.e. the public, the education community, as well as the academic community, in a more holistic and professionalizing way as part of my academic responsibilities. Furthermore, the creation of a PSI network fosters interdisciplinary research, strategies, collaborations, and practices, all of which enrich the experience and the broader impact of the PSI.

How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?

Through my field research, I have established international connections and initiated international collaborations between Canada and Brazil. Currently, I am co-curating a program of Indigenous film and video with a focus on Indigenous women in film in Latin America. I envision future international collaborations in film programming and in film production as well as facilitating invitations for filmmakers to travel between Brazil and Canada to present their work in person as part of public programming, film festivals, and an education community.

How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?

My research with the larger community and social partners is often expressed through teaching, filmmaking, public film screenings and programs, festivals, conferences, and even museum curation. I teach film studies at Vancouver Film School; my film “Kwanxwala-Thunder” was recently screened at an international film festival in Brazil. I also recently programmed films for the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival and LASA, the largest international Latin American Congress, as well as programming for the Museum of Anthropology. Creating public access to more marginalized voices in film and media promotes public awareness, debate, and education on a diversity of voices, cultures, and the importance of self-representation, as well as modeling the possibilities of filmmaking and media communication beyond dominant structures and hegemonies.

How do you hope your work can make a contribution to the “public good”?

My wish is for a radical shift in public consciousness on the diversity of cinematic cultures, voices, knowledge production, teachings, and social, geographical, political realities. My research explores the potential of the cinematic form, not only as a means of expanding the field of film studies, but also as a public resource and educational emphasis on the importance of a heterogeneous understanding of Indigeneity, knowledge production, and media plurality. Subsequently, this heterogeneous understanding is ultimately integrated into the areas of culture, media, politics, and the environment. Lastly, an appreciation and recognition of Indigenous film and video in academic, education, and public spheres would reinforce access to technological and structural resources for a diversity of voices and cinematic expressions, thereby enriching our general culture, education, and understanding of the world at large.

Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?

A confluence of occurrences and desires in 2013 led me to apply to pursue doctoral studies: I was a mature student, a mid-career artist, and a soon to be parent. I met a professor with whom I wanted to work; pursuing a graduate degree was a means to think, research, and practice cinema with the goal of working in a professional and research film community in Vancouver and internationally.

Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?

I was born in Vancouver, and my family and community are here. A decisive factor in my decision to pursue a doctoral degree at UBC was my supervisor, Alessandra Santos. I met her in Vancouver during the time I was considering the pursuit of a PhD. She encouraged me to apply with my research on Brazilian cinema and offered her support as a future supervisor.


My research explores the potential of the cinematic form, not only as a means of expanding the field of film studies, but also as a public resource and educational emphasis on the importance of a heterogeneous understanding of Indigeneity, knowledge production, and media plurality.