Youth and elders team up to make Northern films

Youth across the North are getting a taste of what it's like working in media as a part of an empowerment program called Reel Youth.

‘It’s a really, really, really big, beautiful project,’ says Mark Vonesch, director of Reel Youth

A group of youth in Norman Wells pose with Edward Oudzi, the subject of their film. (Left to right) Julian Behrens, Edward Oudzi, Mckenzie Barney, Teyanna Kakfwi. (Reel Youth)

Edward Oudzi remembers a time when TVs weren't readily available in his community of Norman Wells, N.W.T..

Oudzi only discovered them when he was in a hospital out of town.

"They only showed western movies and murders. That's all. Nothing about the land," he recalled.

Edward Oudzi is starring in one of the Reel Youth films in Norman Wells, N.W.T. (Reel Youth)

But now, a team of youth are filming Oudzi and his life on the land, from mushing dogs to hunting and fishing.

"I never expected to see this happen but this is really good," said Oudzi.

'Really big, beautiful project'

Youth across the North are getting a taste of working in media as a part of a program called Reel Youth.

Elijah Behrens captures a shot of the sun for the film. (Reel Youth)

The non-profit organization has been touring across Canada for 12 years, running animation and film programs for youth. This year, they ran a documentary project where young people connect with elders and produce a short film to celebrate them.

"It's a really, really, really big beautiful project," said Mark Vonesch, director of Reel Youth.

"We do quite a lot of them in the North."

Youth learn how to use film equipment and how to do post-production editing. The program also aims to teach leadership skills and encourage youth to make positive changes in their communities.

Tiana Spilchak, Brent Duncan and Elijah Behrens learn how to use a camera. (Reel Youth)

"We really try to use the medium of filmmaking as a way to make young people stronger and ultimately make better choices for themselves," said Vonesch.

And it's a way to tell important stories in the North and "put it into a format that lasts forever... [as] a legacy for these elders in the community," said Vonesch.

'Feel like I was part of a culture'

For participants like Julian Migwi, it was "mainly to get out of school" that he initially decided to participate in the program.

Edward Oudzi and youth watching the film in post-production. (Reel Youth)

But hanging out with an elder has taught him so much more, said Migwi.

"It made me feel like I was a part of a culture," said Migwi. "[Oudzi] taught me a bunch of stuff about fishing, setting up camps, building a lot of stuff actually."

During the production, Migwi said Oudzi began teaching him new Dene prayer and warrior songs and drum dances.

"It just happened naturally," said Migwi. "I think that was the best part of it, spending time with Edward."

Julian Migwi learns Dene drumming from Edward Oudzi

6 years ago
Duration 0:25
Julian Migwi learns Dene drumming from Edward Oudzi in Norman Wells, N.W.T.

"It made me feel pretty good because I haven't really been with the culture as much because I lived out in the city for a long time," said Migwi.

The films produced by the youth will be showcased in Norman Wells in the new year as well as on their website.

with files from Lawrence Nayally