Culture | Power of the lens

Wapikoni Mobile project enables aboriginal youth to make their own films

For eight months of the year, two trailers equipped with state of the art audio and visual production gear tour aboriginal communities in rural Quebec, recruiting young aspiring filmmakers. The Wapikoni Mobile Project was initiated seven years ago by Quebec film-maker Manon Barbeau, and aims to provide an innovative means of self-expression for teens and young adults living in these isolated communities, while remaining a program that is “run by and for Quebec First Nations peoples.” The medium of film is an effective tool for this generation of aboriginal youth that are stuck straddling two worlds: adolescence, in all its own challenges, and life as a member of aboriginal communities rooted in tradition.

Céline Brassard, an administrative assistant for Wapikoni Mobile, explained to The Daily why she feels the program has been such a success. “Social workers are the first team members to arrive in the community,” Brassard said in French. “They circulate in the community, let people know the studio is coming, and recruit youth who are interested in making films.” Where social policies developed at the governmental level have failed, Wapikoni, with its innovative approach and use of contemporary media, seems to be an effective tool for reaching aboriginal youth. The youth gain technical knowledge while developing leadership skills and general self esteem. Some even return to the program as employees, working as assistant trainers to help younger generations on their projects.

It is not just the social intervention aspect of the project that has contributed to its success. “The program has a double mandate,” said Brassard. “For Manon Barbeau…the artistic aspect is very important as well.”

In order to attain a high level of quality, the travelling studio is decked out with an impressive array of equipment including three Sony PD-170 cameras, two editing stations equipped with Final Cut Pro, and a musical recording studio. The young filmmakers who have participated over the years in the Wapikoni project have been the recipients of over forty local and international film awards.

After the arrival of the Wapikoni social workers, a team of young professional filmmakers enter the community and stay for a four-week period. The professional cinematographers act as mentors and provide hands-on training that allows the youth to effectively produce their own films. The end result is an array of short films, music videos, and recordings that showcase the extraordinary talents of these burgeoning artists. The young filmmakers do not shy away from addressing issues that contribute to the social marginalization of their communities. Some of the films produced in 2010 centred on the traumatic legacy of residential schools, the fight against addiction, and tributes to friends who had passed away. Others dealt with more lighthearted subject matter. “There are a lot of positive subjects like maternity, the joy of family, rediscovering identity,” said Brassard. These films work to combat aboriginal stereotypes by emphasizing the universal aspect of human experience.

The short films and music are produced in a number of aboriginal languages, as well as French and English. As Karine Gravel, an on-site coordinator for the project, told The Daily, Wapikoni Mobile is a catalyst for communication. “At the end of the month we do a presentation where the elders can come and appreciate the work of the youth,” she said. This event brings together much of the community and helps to get people talking about some of the serious subjects that are breached in the films.

Despite the challenges that Wapikoni faces in creating an autonomous program run by aboriginals, the benefits of the program are apparent. The Wapikoni Mobile project has even been replicated by indigenous communities in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. “[The youth] have to stop and ask themselves what they have to say,” says Brassard. Although this process can be challenging, the result is well worth it. “They realize they are more proud than they thought of their communities.” Hopefully this renewed pride will empower the next generation of aboriginal leaders.

Wapikoni Mobile is currently recruiting young social workers to act as on-site coordinators for the project. Visit their website for more information,