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imagineNATIVE's Shane Belcourt on directing, dance and #MMIW

10/24/2014 06:56 EDT | Updated 12/24/2014 05:59 EST
It's day three of the 15thimagineNATIVE film + media arts festival in Toronto. Can you believe it?

I took a moment this morning to sit down with award-winning filmmaker extraordinaire Shane Belcourt.

Belcourt's film Kaha:wi: The Cycle of Life, premiered today (Friday) at the festival. He is also collaborating with acclaimed Métis author Maria Campbell in the festival’s Storytellers Screening on Saturday.

Let’s get into it!

How did you find out that you wanted to become a director? What was the moment that you thought ‘this is for me’

Shane: Oh geez, in some respects I’m always still asking that question! Obviously, I went into film school with that ambition in ’93 and prior to that in high school. My dad had an aboriginal production company, so [I saw] that movies are made by people.

I like to have a collaborative sort of exchange, not just like ‘Sit here, shut up, and do what I tell you.’ I’ve never been good at that. So it just kind of naturally progressed, and when you’re writing things, it’s sort of a natural kind of thing to do if you have some inclination towards directing, and some talent towards camera directing, and working with actors, it just sort of flows naturally.

So, I guess I could say I never would have imagined it any other way! I watched Woody Allen’s movies and I’m like ‘I want to do that!’ … but I didn’t think of it as ‘Oh, I want to be a director and I need to study the arts and crafts of direction.’ It was just like ‘I’m going to make a movie!’

When you start something new it’s always tough. Kaha:wi: The Cycle of Life was your first 'dance movie' What was that like? 

Shane: Of course I was a little nervous at first. The initial thing was: ‘Hey, do you want to do a film with Santee? (Santee Smith is the choreographer of Kaha:wi: The Cycle of Life.)

I was like ‘Yeah! She’s amazing! It would be great!’. So I sign off on it, then I think to myself , ‘Wait a minute. I’ve never done a dance movie before!’ I am not in any respects at all a ‘dance expert’.

So it was sort of: ‘What are the stories of these dances? What are the characters? What is the emotional space, the psychological space of the character as they go through this scene or this movement?’. I thought if I focus on that experience, then I will have done my job.

I know you’ve been involved with the festival for a number of years, what do you think is most important about imagineNATIVE?

Shane: Community! Years ago, the first film that I ever made was in the Witching Hour [short film program]. There were a bunch of other young filmmakers in the Witching Hour and we’re all there, we’re in it together. Some of those people I still see and know and so it was a real great entry into the festival.

There is a real community and camaraderie amongst all the artists. Dancers know the filmmakers, the writers know the photographers, and everyone comes out. It’s one of those things in the calendar where aboriginal people in Toronto know we can get together.

That is what I was drawn too, what I’m most excited about: ‘I’m going to see everybody!’.

The festival has grown so much. It’s now the largest indigenous festival in the world!

You have another film in the festival called Apikiwiyak (Coming Home) that deals with violence against indigenous women, why was this an important project for you?

Some of it comes from personal family story, so I think that the phenomenon of lateral violence is known throughout a lot of aboriginal families in the community.

You know we can talk about the side effects of colonialism, we can talk about the violence that happens to mother earth and the connection that indigenous people have towards it. It’s so very emotional and raw in me.

So you make films to hopefully shed some of it, or get a new light on it, and you get a new perspective on it. As a viewer when you watch other people make their work or when you make the work yourself, it affects how I am as a dad, and as a husband, and as a friend to people.

The sadness, and the helplessness at times get translated into aggression, to anger, and to lateral violence. The core of all these negative things is just broken heartedness.

So really, I should make a comedy next! As opposed to drudging it up…lets just move on and laugh…that’s what we loved so much about the opening (imagineNATIVE opening night screening was a comedy) you know…we just laughed!

Shane Belcourt is one of the fastest tweet slingers out there. If you have a question I didn’t ask feel free to tweet your questions to @Sab72 with the Hashtag #iN15th.

For all the latest and greatest from imagineNATIVE, tweet, follow or message me directly at @itsKinosh.

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