Wapikoni Mobile goes to Lac-Simon, Que.

CBC reporter Loreen Pindera travelled to the Algonquin community of Lac-Simon, Que. to talk to young Aboriginal filmmakers about the nomadic studio Wapikoni Mobile and its impact on their lives.

Funding of successful program in peril

The audience in the school gym in Lac-Simon, Que. laughed uproariously as they watched actor Brandon Papatie duck down to hide from an approaching police cruiser with its siren wailing – the book he stole from the school library tucked under his arm.

Sixteen-year-old Papatie's first film Le Vol is a morality play set in his home community, an Algonquin reserve 30 kilometres south of Val d'Or, in the Abitibi region of Quebec.

"The screening was sort of stressful," Papatie said after his film's premiere alongside a half dozen others in the community where they were created and produced.

"Afterwards, I started to feel pretty proud of my first film.  I feel okay. Happy!"

Papatie is one of dozens of young music producers and filmmakers who have learned their craft through Wapikoni Mobile – a travelling studio that has been dropping by Lac-Simon once or twice a year since it was founded by Quebec filmmaker Manon Barbeau in 2004.

The trailer housing the mobile studio parks in the community for a month, enticing young people to drop by and explore the possibilities for creativity and self-expression. 

Trained cinematographers give them the equipment and the know-how they need to script, record, edit and mix their own music and videos. Then the trailer moves on to another First Nations community elsewhere in Quebec.

Wapikoni's future uncertain

Since it began, Wapikoni Mobile has released more than 800 music videos and short films, winning scores of prizes from film festivals around the world.

But with the unexpected loss of nearly half a million dollars in operating grants from Service Canada following the May 2011 federal election, Wapikoni Mobile has found itself on shaky financial ground.

In October 2011, it appeared Wapikoni Mobile might be making its last visit to Algonquin country, relying on money from a grant from Health Canada set aside as part of the department's suicide prevention strategy.

National rates of suicide among aboriginal youth are five to six times higher than in the general youth population, and after a rash of suicides in Lac-Simon in 2009, the tiny Algonquin community stood out as a community where the risk is especially acute.

C'est la Vie sent CBC reporter Loreen Pindera to the community to check out what was happening. 

Listen to the full documentary, Last Stop Lac Simon.