Weengushk Film Institute bursary provides learning opportunity for new student

M’CHIGEENG—Thanks to a new annual bursary from the Weengushk Film Institute (WFI), individuals such as Aaron Courtorielle, the bursary’s first recipient, will now have the opportunity to attend the acclaimed school with their first year of tuition paid for, and acquire the knowledge and support to procure a career in the film industry.

“We held a draw at a variety of different events we attended throughout the year and than selected one recipient for the new bursary,” explained WFI Founding Artistic and Executive Director Dr. Shirley Cheechoo. “The bursary will pay for the first year of tuition for our short-film program (a one year course).”

“Aaron wouldn’t have been able to attend this year if it hadn’t been for the bursary,” added Dr. Cheechoo. “It is a great opportunity for individuals that don’t have funding and something we hope to do again next year. Aaron has been doing very well so far. She is very passionate and committed and we are really enjoying her time with us so far.”

Ms. Courtorielle hails from Sawridge First Nation near Slave Lake, Alberta, but is no stranger to Manitoulin.

“About 10 years ago I was a theatre intern with Debajehmujig and lived in Wikwemikong, but I returned home to Alberta to have my son Treysen,” Ms. Courtorielle told The Expositor

Since returning to Alberta, Ms. Courtorielle has been a social studies and Cree teacher, but maintained her passion for theatre and the arts.

WFI’s newest student learned of the film institute from her cousin, a graduate of the school, and decided to apply, wanting to start a production company in partnership with her cousin.

“I had gotten into WFI, but I was planning on deferring my acceptance until next year and moving to Edmonton to work for a year so I could pay for my studies,” explained Ms. Courtorielle. “I was very happy to have received this bursary—it made attending WFI possible for me.”

Ms. Courtorielle has been enjoying her time on Manitoulin so far, and her time at the WFI.

“I’ve always enjoyed the writing aspect of the arts,” she said. “Through the course I will be able to focus and develop this passion. My film that I am writing is about oral history and the oral tradition of storytelling. It explores this through Weetigo, a cannibal spirit who is said to represent the evil that can develop in mankind according to Cree tradition. It will focus around a woman having a baby and going through the seven aspects of Weetigo. I just handed in my first draft of the script today and I’m excited for feedback and to continue developing it.”

Though Aaron Courtorielle was lucky enough to receive the new WFI bursary, Dr. Cheechoo stressed that there are still many more students and potential students she wished the school could help.

“Many of our students don’t have their full program fees paid for,” explained Dr. Cheechoo. “The school needs support to help individuals achieve their dreams. It’s not just film that we teach here. The program is really about self-sustainability through the arts. Film is a tool we use to help individuals develop life skills, business skills, reading and writing, and instill confidence.”

To learn more about the programs offered at the WFI or to donate to the school, call 705-377-6011 or visit the WFI website at www.weengushk.com.

 Robin Burridge