We're devoting this week to sharing Q&A's with filmmakers with films screening at the Hamilton Film Festival.
When They Awake will be screened on opening night of the festival on Monday, November 6th at The Staircase following the traditional gala. Check out my interview with P.J. Marcellino below:
What inspired When They Awake?
When They Awake started off as a very different film, which followed a youth engagement project in the Northwest Territories. We knew our story would be broader but we did not know exactly how. We were willing to let things happen on its own time, though. About one year into the production — just as we were supposed to wrap up — the interim reports of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission were published, generating a flurry of really interesting, emotional, politically-charged discussions all over the country. These conversations that were happening all around us, as well as a few pivotal ones we had with some musicians (Leela Gilday, Susan Aglukark, Leanne Goose) convinced us that we had to dig deeper. So, we did just that. We never expected it to lead to another two and a half years in production… By then, so many Indigenous culture keepers, Elders, and youth leaders had shared their stories, their songs, and their memories with us, that we felt the responsibility of bringing the story out, come what may.
Did you discover anything new about yourself and/or your craft while making this?
One always learn from intense situations, and making a feature film of this magnitude (involving 40+ musicians), shot all over Canada, including some of the country’s most remote areas, is as challenging as it gets for a duo of emerging filmmakers. From that angle alone, making When They Awake was the most incredible hands-on filmmaking school. But, the most important things we’ve learned through this process were related to how to become better allies for Indigenous friends, neighbours, communities; how to more efficiently engage in intersectional solidarity at this crucial junction; how to be more aware of our own responsibility, of our own position.
Why should people watch this film?
As luck would have it, the production delays landed the wrap up of post-production right in the middle of Canada 150 — which we took as an incredible opportunity to question what Canada 150 means; who has been included historically, and who has not; and how do we build positive dialogue around it. As part of our personal commitment to the story we decided to take it on the road to community screenings all around the country, starting with 20 in all three northern territories, but ultimately aiming for 150 screenings by the end of the year, which are really 150 opportunity for people to engage in a very important dialogue about decolonization and about reconciliation. But perhaps I’m making When They Awake sound way heavier than it is. People should watch this film because it is a joyful, uplifting, poetic, and empowering film about an incredibly talented and outspoken generation of Canadian Indigenous musicians (from Tanya Tagaq to A Tribe Called Red, and from Hamilton-based Iskwe to Brantford-based Logan Staats) whose music is helping build bridges by channeling their cultures, their peoples’ histories, their languages, and their musical traditions into stirring, exciting art, at a moment when the rest of Canada is finally paying attention. Music, thus, becomes the gateway for dialogue, understanding, and healing. We feel people will come out with fuzzy feelings about how we can — all together — build better communities, but also an appreciation for the vast array of incredible Indigenous music out there, and a better understanding about the history of Indigenous peoples in this country.