A mining company has promised to create opportunities for the remote Webequie First Nation. Through the eyes of three youths facing an uncertain future, this observational yet expansive documentary shows the struggles — and hopes — of a community confronting challenges that many Canadians will never experience.
Interview with filmmaker Ryan Noth
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Kersh Thevasandurum, our co-producer, visited Webequie as part of health outreach for Queen’s University. A recent immigrant from Sri Lanka, Kersh was surprised at what he found ‘in his backyard’ in this country of Canada, and set out to find people to help me make a film about the community. His connection in the community was Bob Wabasse, a cultural co-ordinator who really brings the whole community together.
Bob was super supportive and the local council helped get us up there. No one ever presented us a mandate. As we developed the project with Kersh and Bob, we knew the mining and youth should be the focus in production. We wanted to give the film a feeling of that found in Etre et Avoir, and try to tell the narrative through the voices of the youth in the area as much as possible.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
Webequie and its people and development represent a common exploitation that goes on in Canada and worldwide, where communities are given access (by road, rail, etc.) in order to access minerals. While this often brings money and infrastructure to the remote community, it also forever changes their lives. Given the lack of support from federal and provincial governments in Canada for first nations, I think it’s very important people know what is going on. As Alanis Obomsawin says, “History can be lost if no one tells the stories."
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
We decided to focus on youth because we were tired of hearing interviews with traditional subjects like counselors or academics, and really wanted to see if the youth could express feelings about the condition they are in, both personally and as a community, that related more universally because of their unique understanding of it. I think their day to day worries are both extraordinary - about their friends committing suicide; staying off drugs; missing their dad - and inspiring - catching fish/duck; going to college; helping their parents raise their brothers and sisters.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development?
Our treatment was actually fairly close to what the film ended up being. While we only met (through email and Facebook) a few people before we arrived, everyone was super welcoming, particularly through the school and its classes and programs. We managed to find a good range of kids, in age and background, and while we filmed much more than fit in the 15-20min running time we were allotted (it was a short film broadcast commission), the current film felt like the best cinematic representation we could hope for of our experiences there. We only shot for two five-night visits, one in February, and one in May.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, and we brought Sharmaine, one of the subjects, to the screening. She was really moved by the film, and I think all the participants are really supportive. It’s hard to know what Kenisha will think when she gets older, but I think we presented her and her situation fairly. Beyond that, we won a $1000 (CDA) prize for best short film at the South Western Film Festival in Sarnia, Ontario, and were nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary. We’ve been donating our screening fees to the school in Webequie, as a small way to give back to them.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
Q&As are great, because you get to interact directly with people and give them a bit more backstory to some of the characters and choices the film made. Some feedback has characterized the plight of the community as not very hopeful, but I struggle with that because I think each of the main youth subjects are extremely bright and inspiring. The situation we (the audience vis a vis the government of Canada) have sort of cornered this community into over the years, is definitely not positive, and makes their efforts even harder.
But as individuals, I find each of them has a special light in them that will hopefully be nurtured throughout their lives. I think once people see that our portrayal was sensitive and sympathetic, and done through a lyrical, poetic language of cinema - not talking head documentary - that the majority of the viewers appreciate the film as a useful effort toward reconciliation in Canada. For us, the more stories that can be reflected and told, the closer we’ll be to some kind of mutual understanding of the horrors the country has brought upon its indigenous people. And while the preference would be for all of those stories to be told by indigenous voices, the reality of the size of our country doesn’t always make that possible.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
The more audience that can learn or hear about our work, and take a real interest in the aesthetic and narrative text of a film, the more likely we are to having a career. Encouraging discussion about cinema is always a positive action, to me.
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
We could use some distribution help, as always, from programmers, film festivals, and broadcasters.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
I think we’re already happy with the reception the film has had. We would like it to reach a wider international audience, which is why we’re grateful for the screening at Melbourne.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
When business interests create access to a remote community, who is the real winner?
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Tess recently completed a feature film, As The Crow Flies, with the National Film Board, and I am currently developing both a fiction and non-fiction feature that I will be starting production on in Fall of 2017.
Interview: June 2017
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