TORONTO—A chance encounter last summer turned into a very meaningful relationship between a young girl, her mother and a star musician and may well result in an award-winning video. Young Emilee Ann Pitawanakwat starred in and co-directed a music video with Andrea Ramolo soon after that initial meeting. The video, also featuring Kinnie Starr, has been nominated as a finalist in this year’s Canadian Independent Music Video Awards.
“When Andrea told me that the video with Emilee Ann in it has been nominated for an award, I was in tears, happy tears, and I’m still in awe,” said mom Sara Pitawanakwat. “She’s so young. I’m questioning if she’s the youngest ever to direct a music video. When I told Em last night, she asked, ‘Mom what does that even mean?’ She doesn’t understand the magnitude of it. It is a huge accomplishment and she’s still only nine years old. My family and parents are really proud of her.”
The video has been nominated for a Canadian Independent Music Video award in the folk category, confirmed co-director Andrea Ramolo. The video, for Ms. Ramolo’s song ‘Free’, can be found on her album Quarantine Dream, which was released last October. Quarantine Dream is all about Ms. Ramolo’s pandemic experiences, with songs ranging from upbeat and happy to sombre. It’s Ms. Ramolo’s seventh album.
Emilee Ann and her mother met Ms. Ramolo by chance when they attended a July 1, 2021 Every Child Matters walk in downtown Toronto. Ms. Pitawanakwat wore her ribbon skirt for the event and Emilee Ann, a fancy shawl dancer and hoop dancer, wore her hoop dancing regalia and brought her hoops and hand drum to the event as well.
Emilee Ann was a born dancer, her mother said. “She was 15 months old when she danced her first powwow, the New Year’s Eve powwow in Wiikwemkoong. I knew I had a dancer on my hands. Her coming out ceremony happened at age three.”
When the crowd gathered at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square after the march, Emilee Ann, the sole hoop dancer at the event, was invited into the centre of the circle to dance. Ms. Pitawanakwat told her, “Remember, this is a healing dance, and you’re dancing for the children.”
“It was a really beautiful event,” Ms. Ramolo told The Expositor. “She carries so much wisdom and so much power, especially when she dances.”
Ms. Ramolo had joined the march to walk in the spirit of solidarity. While she was walking, she explained, she came upon two ladies and a young girl in dancing regalia. “I was alone but felt such a community spirit. Emilee Ann noticed and struck up a conversation. It was a conversation on a level that was like we had known each other all our lives,” Ms. Ramolo recalls.
The Pitawanakwats have since become family to Ms. Ramolo. “Sara is like my sister and Emilee Ann a child I love,” she remarked.
Ms. Ramolo is a recording artist and multiple Canadian Folk Music Award nominee as well as a substitute teacher. She was getting ready to record the video for ‘Free’ alongside Indigenous hip hop alternative singer/songwriter Kinnie Starr when she had a dream. “The song ‘Free’ was playing and Emilee Ann was there.”
The song is a vision of freedom, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. It’s about what it means to really be free. “Until we all have clean drinking water and can walk the street safely and not be a victim, we’re not free,” she said.
Emilee Ann worked with Ms. Ramolo on expressing her thoughts on the word ‘freedom’ through words, arts and crafts. The video was shot only 18 days after the initial chance meeting. In the video, Emilee Ann leads Ms. Ramolo through a forest. It ends with the girl hoop dancing, “the most healing of the dances.”
“She did a brilliant job,” said Ms. Ramolo. “She came up with the movements and did a hoop dance in the video.”
“We thought, what an amazing experience for her,” Ms. Pitawanakwat said. “Just making the video and being on site, starring in and co-directing a video at only eight years old. She loves dancing shawl and hoop.”
This was Emilee Ann’s first starring role and directorial debut and it’s been an “amazing ride, journey and experience,” continued Ms. Pitawanakwat. “From the minute Em and I met Andrea, it was something special.”
She describes the video as “very beautiful, very powerful” and is proud of her daughter. “Something amazing and powerful is going to come from this,” she said. “Being nominated for an award was actually not a surprise. Whether this video wins, they’re on a journey. But yes, I really hope it wins.”
The Pitawanakwats are originally from Wiikwemkoong. The senior Ms. Pitawanakwat was born in Little Current and raised in Wiikwemkoong. Emilee Ann was born in Toronto but “knows the community of Wiikwemkoong very well,” she told The Expositor last week. “We were there just two weeks ago.”
Since the video was filmed last summer and launched last fall, Emilee Ann has received other requests. Vancouver-based Midnight Talent are “super excited” to have Emilee Ann, Ms. Pitawanakwat said. “She’s a natural at acting, natural on video. They said they want her. We’ve just finalized her head shots and they’re being sent to her agent. We are looking at all options. Wherever and whenever this takes her, we support her.”
“Emilee Ann is such a bright light,” said Ms. Ramolo. “It is a huge honour for the video to be nominated. People can vote for ‘Free’ up to February 14 to get to the next round, when the jury will choose the music video winners.”
There are about 400 submissions for 22 awards that will be handed out, Ms. Ramolo noted.
“Our little video has a big message and Emilee Ann has such a big part in the video, bringing it to life. It’s pretty powerful,” Ms. Ramolo said. “I know she has become a bright light in my life and is shining her light into the world. Children have a lot to teach. We don’t.”
“Exactly,” added Ms. Pitawanakwat, who is encouraging people to vote for ‘Free.’
To watch the video or vote, search online for Dropout Canadian Independent Music Awards folk category.