Weengushk feature film ‘Moose River Crossing’ begins film festival circuit

M’CHIGEENG—The Weengushk Film Institute (WFI) recently debuted the school’s first feature film, ‘Moose River Crossing,’ at the imagineNATIVE Film and Media Arts Festival in Toronto, beginning the film’s festival circuit.

“The film has debuted at imagineNative and I just returned from the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco where the film was very well received,” WFI Founding Artistic and Executive Director Dr. Shirley Cheechoo told The Expositor.

‘Moose River Crossing’ was written by Dr. Cheechoo as a play and was rewritten as a screenplay when the school began discussing producing a feature film.

“I wrote ‘Moose River Crossing’ a number of years ago, originally as a stage play,” explained Dr. Shirley Cheechoo. “It was well received after a reading in Toronto, but my focus at the time was my film work.”

The film focusses on six residential school survivors in their 30s who meet at the ‘Moose River Crossing’ train station on their way to a residential school reunion. The train is derailed and the characters become stuck at the station, sharing their personal stories and experiences.”

Dr. Cheechoo revealed that she drew inspiration for the screenplay from both her and her family’s experiences at residential schools.

“I am a residential school survivor, as are my brothers and sisters,” shared Ms. Cheechoo. “I attended residential school for eight years and a lot of the stories in the film reflect my own experiences.”

Though the subject matter of ‘Moose River Crossing’ is serious, Dr. Cheechoo explained that the characters are very humorous and invoke laughter, an action that many First Nations believe to be healing.

“The film is not focussed on blame, just sharing and healing,” said Dr. Cheechoo. “It is very character driven.”

The entire film was shot on Manitoulin in six days using area actors such as Matthew Manitowabi, Brigitte Yang, Micheline Blais, Cameron Skura, Cherlynn Panamick and Doug Bedard.

“Normally, for a 90-minute film you have around 21 days to film,” explained Nano Debassige, WFI Senior Manager, when The Expositor was on set last fall, “but we are doing this in six days, which is quite the challenge, followed by three weeks of post-production, which is normally six months.”

WFI students were an intricate part of the film’s production, taking on the roles of assistant script editor (Marie Cheechoo), costume designer (Bill Shawanda), prop coordinator (Breanne Addison), co-producer (Gretta Cheechoo) and various shadow crew positions.

‘Moose River Crossing’ will be shown next at the Female Eye Film Festival in Sudbury at the Rainbow Cinema this Saturday, November 23 at 7 pm.

For more information about the screening or about the Weengushk, call 705-377-6011 or visit www.weengushk.com.

 Robin Burridge