Indigenous

Cree filmmaker fights to keep Weengushk Film Institute open

Filmmaker, actor, and director Shirley Cheechoo, known for her films Johnny Tootall and Moose River Crossing, has turned to online fundraising to keep her Weengushk Film Institute afloat after being turned down by band offices and government.

Shirley Cheechoo says film school helps youth deal with troubled past

The Weengushk Film Institute teaches aboriginal youth much more than how to make a film, according to founder Shirley Cheechoo. (CBC)

Filmmaker, actor, and director Shirley Cheechoo, known for her films Johnny Tootall and Moose River Crossing, has turned to online fundraising to keep her Weengushk Film Institute afloat after being turned down by band offices and government.

For Cheechoo, the institute on Manitoulin Island, Ont., teaches aboriginal youth much more than how to make a film.

"They write about their experiences. And it heals them because they get it out."

Cheechoo says she has seen many troubled youth turn their lives around after studying at the non-profit training institute.

"While they are making a film, they are learning how to read, write, do math, leadership, how to do their resumes, and how to work as a team," Cheechoo says. "So they can move from where they are to a better life, and a better future."

 Cheechoo says 80 per cent of the students enrolled at the institute either continue in the film industry or go back to school. 

Cheechoo sent 600 letters to band councils across the country asking for $250 each annually and only got three responses. She says bands don't want to fund the Weegushk Film Institute because it doesn't give out official certification.

But for Cheechoo, what the school offers is much more than a diploma.

"One student came to our school. He was angry, very angry. And he was throwing chairs, and having fits and going out and burning himself in the arm," Cheechoo says. "You'd never know that was that same kid now when you see him". 

Cheechoo is currently crowdfunding to help cover the costs of rent, electricity and internet at the institute.

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