Sudbury·Audio

Screening at Indie Cinema shares Kashechewan man's journey with homelessness

A film screening in Sudbury this weekend aims to bring attention and understanding to the issues of poverty and anti-Indigenous racism in northern Ontario.

Eight years after the film was produced, director says issues still relevant

Director Wayne Neegan met George Stephen, originally from Kashechewan First Nation, while he was living in Sudbury. At that time, Stephen had been in and out of homelessness for 20 years. (A Will to Live)

A film screening in Sudbury this weekend aims to bring attention and understanding to issues of poverty and anti-Indigenous racism in northern Ontario.

Indie Cinema, in collaboration with the community group Planet Over Profit, will show a free screening Saturday of A Will To Live, a film that documents one man's experiences with homelessness in northern Ontario. 

Director Wayne Neegan met George Stephen, originally from Kashechewan First Nation, while he was living in Sudbury. At that time, Stephen had been in and out of homelessness for 20 years.

Neegan had been hired to create a short digital storytelling piece for a research project out of Laurentian University, focused on poverty, homelessness and migration. 

I think whoever sees it, you know you've got to have some compassion.— Director, Wayne Neegan

"When I met George, he had stories upon stories upon stories, and I think that's where this idea of creating this documentary came about. We sat together and we just kept on recording, kept on meeting with him, just kept going," Neegan recalled. 

Neegan says the conversations quickly "steamrolled" into 12 hours of interviews, from which he created the half-hour documentary. 

'Eye opener' 

Neegan says his conversations with Stephen were an "eye opener," and he admits the Cree man broke stereotypes he held, himself. 

"I thought ... most people that, who live in those conditions are usually pretty thin and, you know, maybe isolated. But this guy was built, he was, looked very healthy, and he was so talkative, he was so sharp."

The film details many struggles Stephen experienced, from family issues, personal tragedy, addiction, and anti-Indigenous racism.

Director Wayne Neegan says his conversations with Stephen quickly 'steamrolled' into 12 hours of interviews, from which he created the half-hour documentary. (A Will To Live)

At one point Stephen describes an occasion where he was denied access to shelter because he had been drinking.

"It was in January in a blizzard and he ended up sleeping on a crate that blew hot air … he survived the night — barely," Neegan said. 

Neegan says one of his "greatest accomplishments" was capturing stories like those, which lead some communities to make changes.

The film was produced in 2012, but Neegan says the issues are still relevant and he hopes the film can continue to inspire change. 

"It still impacts people, not only from like the homeless population, but also Native issues I guess, you know with stereotypes and breaking down stereotypes. I think it does really well in understanding that person or understanding those people that are so judged all the time," Neegan said. 

"I feel like it's a very emotional roller-coaster when you see this film. And I think whoever sees it, you know you've got to have some compassion.  And I think there lies the individual to make up their own decisions on how to contribute to the community."

Planet Over Profit says there will be a Q&A with George following Saturday's screening.

Eight years ago, Wayne Neegan made a documentary about one man's experience with homelessness in northern Ontario. The film will be screened at Indie Cinema in Sudbury. We heard more about the film and how it's still relevant today from Wayne Neegan. 9:06

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