How do you adapt an Aboriginal myth into a film?
You turn it into a high school drama. This was the solution reached by students of Dryden High School when posed with the question.
The result is Eagle Vs. Sparrow and it was screened at the Biindigaate Film Festival Sept. 24 and was among 41 films that played over the three-day event.
The project was initiated by the high school last spring as the school was trying to find ways to bring students out of their shell.
“We thought we would get them out by starting a film project,” said Len Gardner, a teacher at the school.
So they brought in Thunderstone Pictures’ Michelle Derosier and Dave Clement, who mentored the students in the process.
“They did everything on it,” Clement said. “They helped write it, they were the cast and crew, and they did the art direction.”
One of the challenges posed in writing was how to adapt a myth that involved animals into a high school drama film. One student resolved it: “What if the characters were half-human and half-animal?”
The film was shot over two days with a total production time of eight hours.
Eagle Vs. Sparrow was first screened in Dryden to the students and community members.
“Screening it to their peers was amazing,” Clement said.
The screening at Biindigaate was also successful, with many people turning out and applauding the film, which had the students half-attired in costumes suited to their animal.
The Biindigaate Film Festival is in its third year, and the organizers said it continues to get bigger every year.
“Our numbers have doubled and tripled compared to some screenings last year,” Derosier said, who is also chair of the festival committee.
“Overall, we’re just thrilled with our community. The number of seats that are filled tell us that we’re doing something right.”
The film Mémère Métisse is about 70-year-old Cecile St. Amant, who refuses to acknowledge her Métis heritage, and her granddaughter’s attempts to understand her denial and possibly open her eyes to the richness of their culture. The film moved at least one viewer to tears, who said St. Amant’s story is also the story of his own mother.
“It’s moments like this – having a member of the community come up to you and you see how it impacted them – that makes this festival special,” Derosier said.
For Clement, one of the highlights is the Q&A session that followed The Life You Want, a film produced by the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, which follows a Fort Hope young woman and her journey to overcome her prescription drug addiction. He said he was deeply impacted by the discussion, which included the film’s subject, Doris Slipperjack, talking about her addiction and updates about how she’s doing. Q&A’s are something the committee tried to incorporate more into the program.
“It’s a way of creating dialogue,” he said. “You actually get to hear from the filmmakers themselves and take part in the discussions.”
The festival included films from afar. El Perro del Hortelano (Dog in the Manger) is a Peruvian film about a youth who must navigate the world between an oil company that wants to develop on his ancestral lands and his people who want them out.
Another international film, BOY, made its Canadian premier at the festival.
The New Zealand coming-of-age comedy film set box office records in its home country and follows Boy, a youth obsessed with Michael Jackson and who tries to reconnect with his returning father.
Derosier said these are themes and struggles similar to the Indigenous people of Canada.
“It goes back to who is telling the story,” she said. “In the past, First Nations people have not been able to control the image of themselves. With the emerging technology in media arts and the number of Native filmmakers growing, they can now tell their stories and show them to the world.”
For the students of Dryden High School, filming allowed them to grow as people.
“(The students) would show up even before we got there,” Clement said. “There was one student who was so shy, he didn’t say a word, but at the end, he went up and spoke in front of the students.”
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