Michelle Derosier’s award-winning animated film, The Grandfather Drum, features a true story about a healing drum from the upper Berens River. It was one of 45 films screened at this year’s Bay Street Film Festival.
“With The Grandfather Drum, I had a moment with the Thunderbird while I was writing,” says Derosier, who wrote and directed the 15-minute film. “That’s always been a very spiritual process for me and the few years of making that film was a journey and it taught me a lot. That particular story has taught me the most about myself and my place in the world as an Indigenous woman.”
Derosier, co-owner of Thunderstone Pictures and an Eagle Lake citizen, worked with Sonja Lacroix, production designer/illustrator, George Renner, animator/editor, Fred Suggashie, story consultant/translator, Dave Clement, story editor, Elizabeth Hill, composer, and Zoe Gordon, sound production, on the film, which took about three-and-a-half years to make.
“It was a labour of love,” Derosier says. “Sonja and I had to apply for a few different grants because it is a little bit more expensive to make because it is much more labour intensive. Sonja did every single one of those drawings.”
Derosier was originally approached to do a documentary about the grandfather drum.
“It does live in a museum and this is based on a true story,” Derosier says. “But it just wasn’t the time. The drum was still in a museum, so we had to kind of find a way. The story just wouldn’t kind of let me go, so that was when we thought we would do it like an animation and we would do it sort of like a children’s storybook.”
The Grandfather Drum was screened on Sept. 16 at the Finlandia Club in Thunder Bay. An Official Selection of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, the film follows the story of Naamowin’s drum, a drum revered for its healing powers by the Anishinabek of the upper Berens River. After the death of his grandson, Naamowin built a healing drum to save his grandson and his people from sickness. Naamowin was given the healing drum, which can restore life, in a dream.
“We worked on it for three years and we tried to get as accurate as we (could by) asking people the history,” says Suggashie, who is a great, great grandson of Naamowin. “The other people that worked on it were instrumental as well in bringing out the story, so it was good.”
After the release of Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action last year, Suggashie says it is an important time to create films like The Grandfather Drum.
“Most of the recommendations the (Truth and Reconciliation) Commission made really brings out the need for us to preserve our language and preserve the traditions of the Aboriginal people,” Suggashie says. “It is good for us to bring out that film to the communities because sometimes people tend to forget about our culture. It will be good for the kids to see this film and learn from it.”
Suggashie got involved in the film after Derosier asked him for information about the drum.
“Since Naamowin was my great, great grandfather, I knew the history from the stories from my community about Naamowin and what he did for his community,” Suggashie says. “We knew that he was actually a healer in the Berens River region and when you tell stories like these that are positive, it will do good for the communities that are involved. In the long run, in the future, it will keep that history alive and it will do good for the people.”