The Wapikoni Cinema on Wheels is on a trip across Canada to shed light on Indigenous people’s personal realities. They stopped in Halifax Sunday night.
Touched and devastated by the accidental death of her collaborator, Wapikoni Awashish, and the number of indigenous youth suicides, Manon Bardeau created a mobile studio which has been traveling across Canada into Indigenous communities since 2004. Part of the ‘Reconciliation Through Media Arts’ tour, the Wapikoni Cinema on Wheels screenings began in Vancouver in April and stopped in Halifax Sunday night at the Bus Stop Theatre on Gottingen Street.
In the few weeks of the tour, Geronimo Inutiq, facilitator-projectionist for Wapikoni Cinema on Wheels, said this experience has been a reminder that there is not one overlying indigenous identity that exists within Canada. Each community has a “different socio-economic, socio-political reality,” he said.
“Each community has had to negotiate with the governments and has different positions concerning that.”
Inutiq said they encountered different levels of interest in the mobile project.
“Some communities are hardlined and independent. Some other communities are more willing to collaborate.”
Getting a production caravan into remote communities is a way to help break their isolation, said Inutiq, and to get those voices heard. Otherwise, they would lack the tools and opportunity.
Invited to the community, a van with three filmmakers spends 28 days teaching community members technical skills in filmmaking. From recording sound, to scriptwriting, to editing, they are assisted in telling the stories they want through film.
The mobile studio has stopped in 30 First Nations and now have close to 1,000 short films, all available on Wapikoni’s website. From the filmmaking skills they learned, these individuals have received hundreds of national and international awards including the 2017 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award in April with Alicia Keys.
“Filmmaking is a really great opportunity to approach difficult questions,” says Inutiq. “It’s never a good time to talk about difficult questions because it’s always awkward to talk about hardships or challenges.”
Inutiq says the Wapikoni project has given pride to its participants. Some use the platform to share their socio-political and socio-economic reality through documentary style, while others like to do something more playful.
“It’s not about pitying ourselves and being victims, but as a tool to harness and give light to some of those issues and to get the conversation going on it.”
Jocelyn Piirainen, the other presenter, said the project contributes to reconciliation — in two ways. The novice filmmakers “are not just learning from making short films, but retaining what they learn from their community elders.”
Inutiq agrees that the program brings more than just technical knowledge to the participants.
“It’s a great way to reconnect with traditions that were lost and also to educate the rest of Canada about some of those realities, sometimes in a playful, sometimes in a serious way,” Inutiq said. “We do find a great cultural richness in Mi’kmaq communities, from personal stories, to legends, to showing traditional practices.”
Inutiq said much of the cultural richness in Mi’kmaq communities comes from personal stories, legends or traditional skills, like in Heather Condo’s film “My Father’s Tools.”
“It’s a really great way to promote cultural pride and well-being that it’s good to be First Nations, it’s good to be Indigenous. It’s healthy to express ourselves,” he said.
Amber Court, an attendee of the Halifax tour stop, said Montreal’s Innu Natasha Fontaine’s “Nous Nous Souleverons (We Will Rise Up)” is the most impactful to her.
“The way she was speaking was empowering.”
She referred to Montreal’s Widia Larivière and Mélanie Lumsdem’s film “OÙ Sont Tes Plumes? (Where Are Your Feathers?)“on Indigenous stereotypes as very relevant to the Halifax region.
“There is a lot of that here because we are probably quite ignorant to reserve life and Indigenous culture,” she says.
“I liked the aspect of teachings,” Joe Michael said. He is respected Elder of Indian Brook, Mi’kmaq nation. He’s also now retired as the first Aboriginal ‘Mountie’ to be hired by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Nova Scotia.
Michael referred to Pessamit, Quebec Innu Isabelle Kanape’s Ka Mitshelitakuess Auass (The Child Who Hammered Nails) where a father uses the symbol of hammering nails to help his child understand the consequences of action.
“Sometimes when you talk to youth, it’s like you are talking in a different language. Even if we speak the same language, it is important to to speak in way that the other can understand,” he said.
Wapikoni is a non-profit organization that relies on donations, fundraising and grants. It has support from the National Film Board, Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO. Inutiq says the challenge is maintaining momentum in a growing project to be able to go back to the community in the years after.
The van has upcoming stops in Nova Scotia, including Indian Brook, Glooscap, Bear River and Acadia First Nation.