Kahnawake youth to showcase work in Toronto at environmental film festival

Three student films by Secondary II students at Kahnawake Survival School have been selected to screen in Toronto at Planet in Focus, Canada's largest environmental film festival.

Secondary II students selected to attend 19th edition of Planet in Focus

Secondary II students at Kahnawake Survival School participate in Planet in Focus Film Festival's Eco Lab program. (Glenn Gear)

When Shyla Phillips and Alex Norton, both 13, noticed the fish swimming in the St. Lawrence Seaway had bubbles on their scales, it made them wonder about the water quality in their community.

The seaway cuts right through Kahnawake Mohawk territory, where they live, just south of Montreal.

"This made us think that the fish were sick or that the water quality wasn't good," said Phillips and Norton, students at Kahnawake Survival School.

They decided to make a short documentary about it as part of a class project. But they never thought their first-ever film, Pollution in The Seaway, would end up at Canada's largest environmental film festival.

Their film is one of three from Kahnawake Survival School selected to be screened at the Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival, which takes place in Toronto from Oct. 25 to Oct. 28.

Kahnawake Survival School teacher Candia Flynn, left, oversees her student's production of a short documentary headed for the big screen at Planet in Focus Environmental Film Festival. (Submitted by Courtney Montour)

"I'm just so proud of them," said Candia Flynn, a Secondary II teacher at Kahnawake Survival School.

"It's a way to give students who don't excel in paper-and-pencil learning an opportunity to excel in other ways. They can really tell people who they are and what they care about."

Flynn said how Kahnawake's youth thinks about their environment has a big impact on the rest of the community.

The filmmaking project is part of Planet In Focus's Eco Film Lab, which loans tablets and other equipment to schools in an effort to give young people an outlet to express their views on social and environmental issues.

Filmmaker Jesse Bochner gives storyboarding tips to Secondary II students at Kahnawake Survival School's Eco Lab filmmaking workshop. (Submitted by Courtney Montour )

The intensive program was led by filmmaker mentors Jessie Curell, Jesse Bochner, Glenn Gear and Courtney Montour.

"It's great to see them explore all these ideas and to give them a space to share their voice, their way," said Montour, who is an Indigenous filmmaker.

Her own 10-minute short, Flat Rocks, which documents the battle waged by 79-year-old farmer Louis Diabo against the construction in the 1950s of the St. Lawrence Seaway right through Kahnawake Mohawk territory, will follow the work of the students she mentored at the Toronto festival.

Secondary II students at Kahnawake Survival School interview local peacekeeper Cortland Thomas Beaton for their short documentary, 'Keeping the Community Safe.' (Submitted by Jessie Curell)

The teenagers are now hoping to receive funding to head down the 401 this weekend to see their work on the big screen in Toronto.

The Kahnawake Education Centre was not available for comment as to whether it will fund the $2,500 the students need to come up with to attend their screenings.