Acclaimed filmmaker Jeff Barnaby succumbs to cancer

Director Jeff Barnaby attends a news conference for First Peoples Cinema at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival, September 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Fred Thornhill/Alamy)

Acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Jeff Barnaby has died after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 46.

Born and raised on the Listuguj Reserve in Quebec, Barnaby studied film at both Dawson College and Concordia University. Heavily influenced by horror and sci-fi, he began directing short films, including 2004’s From Cherry English and 2010 Genie-nominated dystopian short, File Under Miscellaneous, which starred Glen Gould as a Mik’maq man tired of being confronted with racism who undergoes a procedure to become white.

Barnaby’s first feature film, 2013’s Rhymes for Young Ghouls, had its premiere at TIFF and was given independent release in both Canada and the U.S. A residential schools abuse revenge story told through the story of its main character Aila, the film inspired the creation of “The Aila Test“, a litmus test named after the strong protagonist played by Devery Jacobs, used to analyze representation of Indigenous female characters. Barnaby received a Best Canadian Director nod for the film from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.

His sophomore feature, Indigenous horror film Blood Quantum – depicting a zombie uprising on a First Nations reserve – premiered at TIFF in 2019 and was named second runner-up for the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award. The film garnered 10 nominations and seven wins at the 2021 Canadian Screen Awards, including a Best Editing nod for Barnaby. It went on to streaming release on Shudder in the U.S. and UK and Crave in Canada.

“We should have had so many more films from Jeff Barnaby. Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Blood Quantum and his short films showed an artist powered by a blazing fire. He understood horror on its deepest levels,” wrote TIFF CEO Cameron Bailey, in a post to Twitter.

Barnaby is survived by his wife, Sarah Del Seronde, a Navajo director/writer/producer, and their son.

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