M’CHIGEENG—The first year of the Weengushk Film Institute’s (WFI) Film Studies course accredited through Brock University will be soon drawing to a close and students have been wrapping up filming on their projects with enthusiasm to spare.
“It’s been a wonderful year,” said Shirley Cheechoo, WFI executive and artistic director. “That the program is accredited is huge for aboriginal and diverse youth.”
While the WFI program is accredited and students build university credits, it is open to students that may not have the traditional entry requirements for university therefore it can “open doors for higher education and open up careers in the industry for youth,” noted Ms. Cheechoo. “By the time the kids finish here in April, they will have eight films on their résumés. They will all be going to Brock to graduate.”
The instructors taking part in the program are nothing short of impressive. “We have really good instructors,” said Ms. Cheechoo. “Mark Irwin (Robocop, Something about Mary, Dumb and Dumber etc.) has shot a lot of Dreamworks films. Producer Patrick Cassavetti (Brazil, Waterland, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) is amazing, Phyllis Ellis has two Gemini Awards, two films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival and has lots of US screenwriting awards and Navin Ramaswaran whose recent projects include the Coca Cola freestyle campaign, Late Night Double Feature and One More for the Road.”
Ms. Cheechoo notes that there has also been international interest in the WFI program. “It is a good thing for storytelling,” she said, “and a good thing for Manitoulin.”
Each student creates their own short film during the eight-week run of the course, and undertakes a variety of hands-on roles in their colleagues’ projects.
Jonathan Zagula hails from Mississauga and has already spent three years at Brock University studying film theory and history and is also a former student of WFI. He is interested in the production side of the industry and when the opportunity to take the film studies course at WFI. “I took it right away,” he said. He said he found the biggest attraction in coming to WFI was “the family-like atmosphere. Everyone is really close together and working together.” Mr. Zagula’s production is called ‘This Time.’ The one-line synopsis for the production is: “Risking life and sanity, a time-traveller creates rips in time while trying to find the woman he loves.”
Isaac Kakegamic of Thunder Bay came to WFI to “improve my writing and directorial skills.” His interests lie in screenwriting and this is his second year at WFI. “I have worked in the industry for two years,” he said, mainly as an assistant director. His project is entitled ‘Reclamation.’ Its one-line synopsis is: “One year after the end of the world. A woman discovers traces of her humanity returning after taking a young boy into her protection from the dangers of the new world.”
Joshua Yesno is also from Thunder Bay, and this is his fifth year attending WFI and he is taken with the opportunity to earn university credits at Brock. “I have been writing stories on the side from school,” he noted. “This is a good program and it operates a lot like the industry itself.” His project is ‘Discontinuity.’ Its one-line synopsis is: “Mankind has rapidly lost control over technology, but only one is still left.”
Nolan Moberly hails from the prairies, Saskatchewan to be exact, and his project is called ‘The Way of an Honest Man.’ Mr. Moberly caught the acting bug in Grade 9 and that has been his main focus since. But the film studies course is allowing him to learn every facet of the film industry. “I am learning about film to make me a better actor,” he said. He described the Weengusk program as “a program on steroids, it is so much more indepth.” The most challenging part of the program for him has been the financial side. “Numbers are not my strong suit,” he laughed. The one-line synopsis of his project is: “Take a pulp novel and a comic book, combine them, then fall into it.”
Brian Fowler of M’Chigeeng first came to WFI as a summer student and he was hooked. “I found it really cool,” he said. He said his main goal was to work in the industry as a grip (in sound). Any chance of his taking up acting? “No,” he laughs. “I like working behind the scenes.” Mr. Fowler’s project is entitled ‘Venture in Wager’ and the three-line synopsis of his project is: “Two friends enjoy themselves too much. A money-hungry casino owner, drinking, gambling and bad judgement. Johnny must collect evidence to prove his cousin is innocent.”
Kendra Wesley-Trapper is from Moose Factory and her project is entitled ‘A Buffalo Song.’ This is Ms. Wesley-Trapper’s second stint at WFI. “I was here in 2009, but I had some personal issues,” she noted. But undaunted she has returned six years later to continue her dream. “I am interested in screenwriting,” she said. Ms. Wesley-Trapper originally began her education at college in Timmins, a lot closer to home, and her field of study was Law. “I learned a lot about myself,” she said. Discovering that she could write, Ms. Wesley-Trapper is driven to “share my stories.” Eventually she hopes to direct her own feature film. The synopsis of ‘A Buffalo Song’ is “When the weight of life gets too unbearable, sometimes a push from the other side is all you need to break the chains.”
Jasminn Jacko is another local student at WFI, hailing from Birch Island. The synopsis of her project ‘Treble’ is: “A young aspiring pianist overcomes adversity to fulfill her dreams.” “My mom shared a thing about WFI on Facebook,” she recalled. “I heard they were taking applications and I want to go to college in the fall.” The WFI program seemed an interesting intro to academia, recalled Ms. Jacko. “It’s good, I like it,” she said of her first experience in post-secondary education. Ms. Jacko said that she enjoys working “in the curtains,” working on the hairstyles and makeup. She will be studying at Canadore College come fall.
Zander Metz is originally from Florida, but calls Buffalo, New York home these days. His project is entitled ‘I Slept With The Devil,’ and is “A psychedelic 1970s style grindhouse film retelling the mythological stories of Lilith.” (Grindhouse roughly translates to a pulp fiction style and Lilith, in Judeo-Christian mythology is the first wife of Adam, pre Eve, and is a prototype strong female figure.) Mr. Metz is also a WFI alum, having taken the initial course in the film studies line last year. He worked in the industry for three years, primarily as a boom operator (sound). The accreditation available with Brock University and the academic credentials can “open doors” he noted.
Producer Jesse Cheechoo graduated from WFI four years ago and has been working in the industry for two-and-a-half years now. The production gig is allowing him to dip his toes into a different side of the industry, as a lot of what a producer does in the industry is “hunting down the money” to be able to bring a project to fruition—it is a role critical to a project’s success. Mr. Cheechoo was impressed with the quality and dedication of the inaugural class of the accredited course.
The films are going to be screened starting at 2 pm, Saturday, April 22 at the Weengushk Film Institute located at 5494 Hwy 540 W M’Chigeeng. Admission is free, but donations will be gratefully accepted at the door.