Jon Kapashesit of Moose Factory had been working at a local broadcasting company for about a year when he caught a “creative itch” he could not scratch at work.
“I work at MRBA (Moose River Broadcasting Association) and we mostly do news stories and broadcasting type of stuff, nothing really film-related,” he said. “ So one day I contacted Phoebe (Sutherland) and I said ‘I want to do something, I want to shoot a film, I want to make something.’”
This urge to create led to the filming of Eulogy From the White House, a 16-minute film that screened at the Biindigaate Film Festival in Thunder Bay Sept. 23.
The film follows Maggie, a journalist in Europe, who discovers her birth father passed away and returns to her community. Having been taken away from her family when she was very young, she tries to reconnect with her father through what he left behind.
Jon had access to a certain location in the community, which he said, “helped spark the creative mode.”
“My parents had just bought a house and it’s an old, old house straight out of the ‘70s,” Jon said. “So I had a cool location and wanted to visit that.”
Jon told Phoebe about the location and that perhaps the story could involve “somebody who has trouble sleeping.”
“So (the story) just kind of came to me,” Phoebe said, “because I’ve had trouble with insomnia, writer’s block and grief, as well.”
Given these parameters, Phoebe churned out a 15-page script overnight. The main character didn’t have a name early on, but the 38-year-old said the inspiration came from listening to the Rod Stewart song Maggie May.
In the midst of writing, Phoebe’s friend Jocelyn Cheechoo asked what she was working on.
“I said ‘I’m working on this short film with only one person,’” Phoebe recalls. “And I put the idea to her (to act) and she said ‘OK, I’ll read it first.’”
Jocelyn, who works in the environmental field, had no acting experience other than her Grade 10 drama class. After reading the script, she liked it and decided she wanted to give the lead role a try.
“It was something I wanted to do,” the 31-year-old said, “but it was also a favour because Phoebe and I are really good friends and I wanted to help her out.”
While Eulogy From the White House would be Jocelyn’s first acting role, it is also the “maiden voyage” for what would be Phoebe and Jon’s production company, Goose Call Productions.
The name for the company stems from a talent that Phoebe developed growing up when hunting with her father, and it’s a skill that she uses for another purpose.
“I coach basketball and I’d encourage my players to play harder and play their best, so I always get loud and call geese,” she said.
The name also took on another meaning when she asked her father the Cree word for goose call. He told her it was ‘ket-te hes-kwen,’ for which the literal translation is “using your own voice.”
“And that’s something I want to do,” Phoebe said of the translation. “Not just my voice, but, to me, when there’s a flock of geese it’s the ones in the back that are encouraging and that’s what I see my role as: getting kids to tell their story.”
Phoebe has little training or experience in film or video production. Her only experience was 20 years ago when she hosted a youth show for Wawatay TV when it had a studio in the community. Otherwise, she edited basketball videos for her team using basic editing software after buying a laptop a few years ago.
But writing is not something new to her.
“I’ve always been story writing, and I’ve always kept journals,” she said.
She learned to write scripts from a screenwriting book she bought in January.
Having graduated from the two-year film production program at Confederation College in 2010, Jon is the “technical go-to guy” of the pair. While Phoebe wrote the story, Jon shot, edited and directed the film. He showed her how to breakdown the script for shooting. And while they followed the script, Jon made suggestions on what to show and what not to for certain scenes.
“So it was a bit of a collaboration,” Phoebe said.
Using a camera borrowed from MRBA, production took place over the May long weekend at the house. It involved a minimalist crew of Jon, Phoebe and the talent, Jocelyn.
While the film only shows the main character, Maggie, she is seen speaking with other characters off-screen, usually on the phone. For the shoot, Phoebe read the lines for Jocelyn to react to on-camera, but family or community members voiced them later in post-production. To show Maggie traveling to the community, they obtained permission to use a plane at the Moosonee airport.
One of the more emotional scenes in Eulogy is when Maggie breaks down. Jocelyn said this was the most challenging aspect of her role.
“Maggie didn’t know her father, so it was difficult for me to relate to because I get along very well with my father,” she said.
“The whole shoot was very relaxed with a lot of joking and laughing,” Jon said, adding that he never directed anyone in a crying scene before. “But when it came to that scene, we got more serious and Jocelyn went into a certain mode.”
Jocelyn said she was given several options in how to shoot the scene, including acting it out to the camera with no crew present.
“But I preferred them to be there because what if I did it but I wasn’t in shot,” she said with a laugh. “ I wouldn’t want to have to do it again.” The scene was shot late at night and to help work up to it, “Jon, Phoebe and I had a long and good talk about the idea of family.”
Then they rolled the camera. As Jocelyn played out the scene, Phoebe was so moved that “I was on the verge of crying and almost dropped the boom mic,” she said, laughing about it now.
“And after Jon said ‘cut,’ Jocelyn and I hugged, and it was just, wow, a really great moment for us.”
After production wrapped, Jon edited the film in the evenings or weekends at work until they acquired their own editing computer. Jon, a musician, also composed the score.
While the title Eulogy From the White House might suggest a U.S. political drama, Phoebe said it’s based on the grieving theme in the story and the colour of the house.
In describing the film’s theme, Phoebe said: “At the heart of it, everyone has a father and at some point in our life, we’re all going to lose our dads.”
She lauded Jocelyn’s performance, saying, “Her as Maggie, she just totally connected with that and I was very impressed.”
Meanwhile, Jocelyn said she felt very comfortable working with Phoebe and Jon.
“I’m very impressed and am proud to be a part of the project,” she said.
Goose Call Productions is in the midst of growing. They recently acquired some equipment and plan to set up a base of operations in Moose Factory in the near future.
Meanwhile, Phoebe is working on a feature-length script and is attending Docs North, a five-day film workshop initiative in Thunder Bay Oct. 3-7.
Jon plans on shooting more narrative films.
“I always have a bunch of scripts laying around,” he said.
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