Two Thunder Bay filmmakers were instrumental in producing Stories from the River’s Edge, which aired on CBC’s The Fifth Estate Nov. 4.
Michelle Derosier, of Eagle Lake First Nation, and Dave Clement are co-owners of Thunderstone Pictures Inc. in Thunder Bay. They first got involved with the project after receiving a call from CBC representatives. The company was looking for Aboriginal filmmakers in the area and wanted background information on the issues. Upon learning of the pair’s skill sets and Derosier’s connections within the community (she had worked as a counsellor with Dennis Franklin Cromary High School in Thunder Bay and Pelican Falls First Nation High School in Sioux Lookout), CBC proposed they work together on the project.
“We weren’t expecting to start filming until mid-August,” Clement said. “But then they decided to include the story of Jordan Wabasse and the search for him.”
So in April, the duo worked with the CBC producers and director for a week in capturing the search and following Beulah Wabasse, Jordan’s grandmother, as she searched for answers into his death.
Then in late August, the filmmakers traveled to Deer Lake for five days to film the life of two sisters on the reserve and then followed them as they traveled to Thunder Bay to attend school.
It was a physically demanding job for the pair, as they were out filming 12-14 hours a day for more than 20 consecutive days.
“The physical demands on the body are extreme,” said Clement, who operated the camera. “Every day you go to bed dead tired and every morning you wake up sore.”
The shoot was on a tight schedule so it was fast paced. Derosier said that as a filmmaker, the project was a very different experience than her usual approach to documentary subjects.
“I like to develop relationships and work at developing trust with people I’m engaging with, so that was the biggest challenge for me,” she said. “But at the same time, I had to step out of my comfort zone, and so I learned a lot, as a filmmaker, as a storyteller, and as a person who loves to engage with people.”
Clement also learned a lot.
“It was eye opening to work with some of the best journalists in the world,” he said. “And it was eye opening to work in national television and see the pace which things happen and the way a story like this is pieced together.”
The episode showed some very emotional scenes where the documentary’s subjects face grief and homesickness.
“Pretty hard to film some of these scenes,” Clement said. “I’m shooting through tears a lot of the times, for sure.”
Derosier added: “There were moments where we all were, the Fifth Estate people included. Because we’re dealing with sensitive issues and human beings … where you can’t help but feel when you hear a young woman telling a tragic story. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking.”
At the same time, Derosier said it was inspiring to get to know the youth, whom she described as “amazing, strong and resilient.”
“You’d hear a sad story and the next day they’d do something amazing,” she said. “They’d be having fun, making you laugh and just being teenagers.”
Overall, Thunderstone Pictures is proud to have been a part of the project.
“It was a good challenge for us to rise against and we are really proud to be able to do that,” Clement said.
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