Wapikoni is a mobile studio that travels to First Nations communities (mostly in Canada, but also throughout the world) with the goal of providing workshops to indigenous youth to master digital tools for directing short films. Mentor filmmakers assist the participants in the creation of approximately 70 short films and 30 musical recordings each year, which adds to the collection of over 1500 works in the Wapikoni collection.
As part of the Montreal First Peoples Festival (Présence Autochtone), eight short films made by participants of Wapikoni’s workshops were shown at Cinema du Parc, with more to screen in the coming days. Three of the filmmakers from different First Nations communities were in attendance at this screening and answered questions about the inspiration behind their works.
Although different in feel and subject, the films were cohesive. Perhaps most memorable is Commanduck by Keith Whiteduck, a film that Whiteduck describes as the child of “Spinal Tap and The Office.” The short mockumentary has a rock band take vengeance against its record company by making a terrible record. Perhaps a webseries will be in Whiteduck’s future, as this has quirky appeal and enough sense of character and place to be distinct.
The remainder of the films ranged from kid’s tv sweet to art school obscure, but by and large had some recurrent themes reflecting a First Nations worldview. One thing emphasized is the importance of elders and their contribution to life. Notably, Mikwetc is a music video in Atikamekw praising grandmothers and grandfathers, while showcasing the skills and knowledge they have to share. Similarly, in Vivir Con La Terra, a Kuna elder (from Panama) shared her perspective on the importance of encouraging the young to protect the territory and all it offers. The importance of the land is brought up in several of the films with close ups as well as grand vistas of the landscape and its fauna, such as in Kitci Nehirowiskwew, about Kokom Cotit. The preservation of rituals and the retelling of myth and history is a theme in many films. Questions about assimilation and traditions new and old are brought together with Je me souviens, Fred Cheezo’s homage to metal music and how he uses it to address his feelings, while connecting it through visuals with the pow wow.
Overall, these films serve document the customs and beliefs of individuals from particular nations, but their existence also demonstrates the collective resilience of the First Nations. Culture is maintained despite both active and passive attempts to destroy it since the colonization of the Americas. It is heartening to see that rituals, ideas, and a way of life are valued. The story that each filmmaker has to tell may be a small pinhole into the present and future of indigenous peoples, but as a totality, they point to a culture (or better, cultures) that is thriving and evolving in its own direction.
Festival Preésence Autochtone (Montréal First Peoples Festival) continues until August 9. For details on events, click HERE.