By Chadd Cawson
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The 2022 Empowered Filmmaker Masterclass based out of Vancouver brought Indigenous storytellers and aspiring first-time filmmakers together in Cranbrook for the week of Apr. 4 to 8. 

“We prioritize Indigenous participants because we believe in the power of filmmaking to help restore language, culture and ensure their voices are heard,” says award-winning filmmaker and program lead Farhan Umedaly. “Filmmaking can also be a powerful tool for healing, social, and environmental justice.”  

25 participants from both Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk) and Secwépemc (Shuswap) First Nations split into groups of five to learn about cameras, natural lighting, and other basics necessary to creating short films. One of this year’s teams from the Shuswap Nation were mother and son Lavonne Johnson and Hughie Nokleby. The films were screened at the in-house Empowering Filmmaker Masterclass Film Festival which took place on the Friday at 3:30 p.m. 

All students were presented with a certificate, while a select few were given cameras and awards for their outstanding works and creativity. Some award categories were the Digital Warrior Award, Best Cinematographer, and Visionary Storyteller. Justin Williams of the Ktunaxa (Akisqnuk) Nation received the Visionary Storyteller Award last Friday for his film Like it was Yesterday. Williams’ film shows the story of W. Robert Williams Hereditary Chief of ?aq’am, and Sophie Pierre displaying their experiences in residential schools. 

The buzz behind this annual filmmaking workshop first began thanks to the partnership of TELUS STORYHIVE when it allowed 25 Indigenous filmmakers ages 15 or older to unite in Vernon B.C. for its inaugural week from Aug. 8 to 12, 2017.  Due to its initial success, the following year rolled out three programs. In 2019 there were four, then adding Cranbrook to the list of locations which also included Vernon, Prince George and Nanaimo. 22 films created by first-time Indigenous filmmakers were produced that year. 

“We had to shelf our in-person programs for two years during the pandemic, which means we have a lot of catching up to do,” says Umedaly. “We plan to train 100 participants and produce 32 films over the next month, traveling from community to community. We will be bringing state-of-the-art cameras and the tech they need to make beautiful short films.”

This year, the program crossed borders and boundaries. Two workshops were offered in British Columbia, starting in Nanaimo, then Cranbrook. The workshop moved to Lethbridge A.B. this week, and will conclude the following week in Grand Prairie, A.B.

Day one started off with filmmaking 101, speaking to the basics and past productions. Day two followed with the art of storyboarding, while participants were placed into groups of five to plan out their production. The heavy artillery was broken out on the third day as five DJI OSMO+ 4K cameras were distributed along with three-axis gimbals, which they were given hands-on training on how to use in the field. Using Adobe Premiere CC on day four taught students how to import and edit their footage in a timeline, later adding a life-like quality with special effects and sound beds. By the end of the fifth day, filmmakers were able to see their own creative works and those of their peers on a big screen.

For the 2022 Empowered Filmmaker Masterclass in Cranbrook, most participants were local to the area, while some joined from other communities in the interior region of B.C. As of Friday, students walked away with contributing to a beautiful creation while having the right to call themselves self-sufficient filmmakers. Students from this workshop will have access to grants through TELUS STORYHIVE. This year the STORYHIVE Indigenous Edition awarded $500,000 in filmmaking grants made available to this year’s participants. Select films will be distributed through TELUS Optik and Community Showcase Television.

“We have seen the power of filmmaking capture important stories. Participants are able to go forward and produce their own films, give back and share their knowledge with their communities.” says Umedaly. “These stories are being used to create awareness and lift up voices.”