Why Make Movies?: Some Atikamekw Answers

By Sedillot, Catherine Laurent | Post Script, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Why Make Movies?: Some Atikamekw Answers


Sedillot, Catherine Laurent, Post Script


Adair introduced (to Sam) the subject of teaching young Navajos to make movies. Sam was very interested and Adair explained exactly what we intended to do. After some thought, Sam turned to Worth and through the interpreter asked, "Will making movies do the sheep any harm?" Worth was happy to explain that as far as he knew no harm would befall the sheep if movies were made in the community. Sam thought for a few seconds, and looking straight at Worth asked, "Will it do them any good?" Worth was forced to reply that as far as he knew it wouldn't do the sheep any good. Sam looked at us both and said, "Then why make movies?" (Worth and Adair 13)

In 1966, Sol Worth and the anthropologist John Adair taught young Navajo Natives the basics of camera use and of filmmaking, thinking that the formal qualities of the films produced would reveal some hidden aspects of their culture or worldview. The passage quoted above details a conversation about their project with Sam Yazzie, the eldest healer in the community. And although it was written nearly 40 years ago, it is still relevant because it illustrates the importance of a cultural practice making sense to those who are engaged in it (in this case the use of video), and for anthropologists trying to understand that sense. Today, Native people understand the power of images very well, as a result of Western media products having been introduced into their homes. Yet because of the social, political and economic context in which Natives live, their preoccupations and expectations regarding cinematic representation and narrative are distinct from those of Westerners (Ginsburg 1995, 262). They are consequently particularly deserving of attention.

Since 1966, a growing number of anthropological researchers have focused upon the effects of, and the direction being taken in, audio-visual media usage by Australian aboriginals (Ginsburg 1991, 1993, 1995; Michaels), by Natives from Oceania (Sullivan), as well as by North and South American Natives (Carelli; Ginsburg 2002; Huhndorf; Leuthold; Turner 1991, 1992, 2002). Worth and Adair, influenced by both communication theories and linguistic theories, were principally interested in the grammar and narrative styles of the films made by the young Navajo (9). The new researchers have given their attention to the social and cultural processes threaded throughout Native videos and films, as well to the social relationships surrounding the production of these images. Their model for studying these media emphasizes cultural hybridity and the constancy of cultural change, the capacity of individuals and groups to adapt, and the relationships between the economy, art, ideology, and power. I based my own work on this model in carrying out my Master's research on the "Wapikoni mobile", an audio-visual creation project aimed at the Indigenous youth of the province of Quebec.

GOING WITH THE WAPIKONI MOBILE IN MANAWAN

The Wapikoni mobile is an RV that was converted into a mobile film studio in 2004 by the Quebec documentary filmmaker Manon Barbeau. It was created as a "place of dreams without consumption, of encounters between people, of expression, apprenticeship, exchange and valorization" (Wapikoni mobile) for Natives of between 15 and 30 years of age. Since its creation, it has been traveling around the province of Quebec and stopping in different Native communities for one month at a time. In the course of these stopovers, an "intervener" (in case the participants feel the need to talk about their experience) and two young Quebec filmmakers traveling with the caravan give an opportunity to young Natives to make short videos and audio recordings. During the first week in a community, the filmmakers welcome interested young people into the RV, discussing their project with them and inviting them to develop their questionnaire (for when they plan to do interviews) or to reflect on what images they would like to show. …

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