Member uses SEG money to present Indigenous films

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Michael R. Clark was one of eight members to be awarded a Staff Enhancement Grant this past December. He used the funds to pursue a personal goal of bringing Indigenous programming to the Grand River Film Festival this Spring, and kindly let us share his report. 

Since 2018, I have worked with the Grand River Film Festival as their chair of Programming. This role is responsible for identifying and organizing the films that comprise the annual film festival. In this role, I have taken seriously the need to be appropriately representative with the films we show in three areas: diversity of the filmmakers, diversity of the themes, and diversity of the cast. It is a core belief of GRFF’s that the films we show should be representative of our entire audience, the population of Waterloo Region, which is a diverse (and increasingly so) population centre. If we only show films that highlight particular stories and experiences, we are leaving the rest of our audience behind. However, as a white cis male, I rely on the diversity of my programming committee to help me identify stories worth telling, and stories told respectfully.

2022 was important to us for two reasons: it was out 14th season, and it would be the first time since 2019 that we were able to have in-person screenings of films. Previous year’s iterations were forced online due to the pandemic. With these two celebrations in mind, a decision was made very early on to provide a free screening as part of our lineup. This free screening would ideally focus on our local community, and involve our small but passionate local filmmaking community as well. After conversations with other local arts groups, such as KWAG, we determined that focusing this event on Indigenous filmmakers would be advantageous. An identified issues emerged: no one on my programming committee identifies as First Nations, Métis, or Inuit. A decision was made to involve the local Indigenous community in helping us program and organize this event.

We were introduced to Kahstoserakwathe Paulette Moore of the Kanien'kehàka (Mohawk) of Six Nations of the Grand River, who runs an Indigenous art collective in Six Nations called The Aunties Dandelion. Paulette is herself an independent filmmaker, lecturer, and artist. Working with Paulette, we identified “connection to the land” as a theme to build the program around. She provided a 50 min documentary film From Wisconsin with Love, which followed a group of Ojibwe south of the border who rallied to stop an open-pit mine being build on their ancestral home. With Paulette, we then made connection with local activists Bangishimo and Amy Smoke, founders of the O:se kenhionhata:tie Land Back Camp in Waterloo Region. They had created a 30 min documentary about their camp with settler director Erik O’Neill called Stories from Land Back Camp. With these two films secured, we approached the Kitchener Public Library to form a partnership, to use their auditorium at the main branch in downtown Kitchener as our location for the free event.

5 people on stage for discussion panel

The event, titled Indigenous Resurgents: Reflections and Action from the Front Lines, happened on May 14th at 2pm. Paulette would host the event, introducing the films and afterwards moderate a discussion with Bangishimo, Amy Smoke, Erik O’Neill, and Land Back Camp member Maddie Resmer, where they would discuss the issue of Indigenous Land Rights from a local perspective, as well as the challenges of activism in an inherently colonial system. The event was free and unticketed, and people were encouraged to drop-in. It was promoted by GRFF, KPL, and picked up by local media. 64 people attended, and when surveyed afterwards gave the event a high level of satisfaction. The discussion itself was incredible and a stark reminder of the challenges that Indigenous people in our community face. It was a moving, entertaining, and engaging afternoon that left myself and the audience reevaluating what we thought we knew and what we had heard of this group in local media.

GRFF programmed a screening of Run Woman Run by Zoe Hopkins (of Six Nations), a narrative film about an Indigenous Woman who is encouraged by the ghost of Tom Longboat to run a marathon, that evening at the Apollo Cinema in downtown Kitchener to continue the theme of celebrating Indigenous artists. GRFF also featured two other features films by Indigenous directors and staring Indigenous casts – Don’t Say It’s Name and Bootlegger – as part of the virtual component of this year’s festival.

GRFF, and myself, wanted to put on this event to both support local filmmakers, to raise awareness in our audience of an important issue happening in our community, and to further our own education on the issues. We also wanted to gauge if this sort of event and these sorts of films were of interest to our audience.

If, in my own journey of learning more and being more equitably and inclusive in how I program our festival, I am being fair and able to project beyond my lived experience. This is the first major step forward in terms of modern DEI education for myself and GRFF, and overall a successful one.

The $500 granted to me by the Staff Enhancement Grant paid for the screening fees for the films. The awarding of this grant in late 2021 was enough to get the board of directors to approve additional funding for to cover the remaining costs of the programme, including appearance fees and consult fees. Without this grant, this event would not have been possible, and I am grateful. And the event was successful enough that the board of directors is interested in exploring similar events at future festivals.

All UWSA members are eligible to apply for a Staff Enhancement Grant to help cover costs associated with the pursuit of personal development. the next deadline for applications is December 1, 2022.

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