A group of young people in Pelican Narrows, Sask., have spent part of their summer translating their experience of life on the northern reserve into song, film and photography.

It's all part of  Wapikoni Mobile — a professional audiovisual studio that tours Indigenous communities across Canada, giving young people the tools and guidance to make short films and music videos.

Participants in the program are mentored by filmmakers such as Emmet Walsh. 

He drove 11 hours from Winnipeg to arrive at the northern community this summer and said he was struck by the landscape and its waterways, which for him embody the "Canadian wilderness in all its forms."

Wapikoni Mobile Pelican Narrows

Sisters Amelia and Louisa Ballantyne, both participants in the project, appear on set with community member Fred Ballantyne. (Supplied by Emmet Walsh)

'An eye-opener'

"It's a humbling experience," he said of being involved in the project.

"It's definitely an eye-opener to see a lot of the struggles that Indigenous people in this country are still faced with, that they have to live with, and a lot of the injustice."

One of the participants in the program is 15-year-old Dawnae Francois, who lives in Winnipeg but is spending the summer on the reserve with her mom's side of the family.

She's making a film about the community's elders, and what has changed for them in Pelican Narrows since they were young.

"I hope for the community they can understand how different it is for the elders here and I guess they can learn a little bit of how it was for them," Francois said.

Other projects from the cohort include a music video being shot in Cree, a film about a teen's relationship to the community's lake — purportedly visited by a mythical creature — as well as a film by a teen who recently lost a friend.

Wapikoni Mobile Pelican Narrows

Dawnae Francois on set with filmmaking mentors Emmet Walsh and Omar Elhamy. (Photo supplied by Emmet Walsh)

 

Capturing community's beauty

Amelia Ballantyne, 16, is doing something a bit different.

Instead of creating a film, she is producing a photo essay of pictures she's taken of the community — images that show its nature, sunsets and trees and water.

"The colours that reflect the water, those I take pictures of because it's like you'll never see those colours again."

Besides shooting all the photographs for the piece, she's also been recording a soundtrack to play with the photo essay. That's meant collecting sounds of water splashing against rocks and trees.

Walsh said he doesn't think about the project in terms of reconciliation, but goes into each community with an open-mind and willingness to meet new people.

"I always come in with a kind of clean slate where I don't know what to expect and I'm trying to listen as much because, to be honest, my ignorance in terms of First Nations history and also the reality in this country is pretty abysmal."

"I've worked four summers and what I've learned in working with these communities is just the beginning. It's a real eye-opening and privileged experience for me," he said.

Community screening

Next week, the young people will showcase their films to the community — an event they feel both nervous and excited about.

Walsh said the hope is once the mobile studio and its equipment leaves, the young people have the skills and passion to continue their creative pursuits.

With files from CBC-Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend