It’s that time of year again, the time when the leaves begin to fall and we reluctantly bring out our boots and heavy coats. But fall also happens to be my favourite time of year because that means the annual imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival is just around the corner. I like to think of it as NDN country’s TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival). Films, celebrities, parties — what’s not to like?

A showcase of new works by Indigenous artists at the forefront of innovation in film, video, radio and new media, the imagineNATIVE festival is celebrating its 13th year. From October 17-21, 2012, events will take place at venues across downtown Toronto — many at the beautiful TIFF Bell Lightbox — with the recently-restored Bloor Cinema hosting opening night.

“I am proud of what we at imagineNATIVE as a team have done this year,” says festival Executive Director Jason Ryle. “We’ve really put together a really strong collection of programs and events for the community. We always keep at the forefront our mandate and our responsibilities — not just to the artists, but also to the community and our audiences,” says Ryle. “I think a large part of our success has been our devotion to that mandate, and clarity and focus in terms of what we do.”

With all the artistic expression and inspiration that it offers, imagineNATIVE is one of those festivals that gets digitally inked into my calendar year after year, not only for its fantastic films and events, but also the friendships that form there.

Here are some of the highlights of the festival that I’ve selected from its exciting lineup of films, workshops, and events. Admission to the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival ranges from $7 for an individual ticket to $110 for a festival pass. Hope I’ll see you there!

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Opening Night: The People of the Kattawapiskak River

This year’s opening night screening offers an enriching experience in the world premiere of The People of the Kattawapiskak River, directed by Alanis Obomsawin. This feature takes the viewer beyond the housing and poverty headlines of Attawapiskat First Nation to get a fuller glimpse of life on this northern Ontario reserve. The Opening Night Party following the screening will be at The Brant House on King Street West, so be sure to wear your best town clothes.

Friday Night: Canned Dreams

According to imagineNATIVE’s Jason Ryle, “If there was one film that I’d like to see again is Canned Dreams [by Saami filmmaker Katja Gauriloff]. It’s an incredible documentary, really masterfully made, and the content of the documentary is very current. It’s a film that we can all relate to, but it’s also something that we’ve never really considered before. I really like work that takes something everyday and completely flips it and makes us think about things that we never thought about, and that’s what Canned Dreams does.”

Saturday Night: The BEAT

The annual music night at imagineNATIVE is always a fan favourite, a night where not only film festival participants congregate, but all of Toronto’s urban Natives too. It is definitely the event where you show off your new mukluks, or that medallion beadwork you’ve been waiting to wear for just the right occasion. This year, ‘The BEAT’ concert features blues rocker George Leach and contemporary-folk singer/songwriter Nick Sherman. It is sure to be a stomping good time.

Closing Night: The Lesser Blessed

A film that won many hearts during its premiere at TIFF is The Lesser Blessed, adapted from a story by Dogrib (Tlicho) author Richard Van Camp and starring Benjamin Bratt, Tamara Podemski, and Kiowa Gordon (of Twilight fame). This dramatic feature film, set in the Northwest Territories, is a youthful coming of age story with a hint of grit. Following the screening, the Closing Night Awards Show (hosted by actor Billy Merasty) at the Mod Club Theatre will award $25,000 in cash and prizes to many deserving artists in a number of categories.