by Thom Ernst Saturday February 11, 2012

It's somewhat of an Ontario past time to list the names of famous filmmakers and stars who were born in raised in our province. 

Let's play:   There's James Cameron from Niagara Falls, Jim Carrey from Newmarket, Rachel McAdams, Paul Haggis and Ryan Gosling from London, and  Mike Myer's from Scarborough. 

It's a short list I've provided, with only a few names and even less places.   But to continue the exercise would require little effort.  Filmmakers are popping up all across our province so I was hardly surprised to discover that our next batch of filmmakers might just come from Manitoulin Island.

The prospect are good now that Shirley Cheechoo has founded the Weengushk Film Institute

I met Shirley Cheechoo at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.  We both had short films submitted into the festival but that year the show belonged to Shirley.  Her short, Silent Tears, was getting the kind of acclaim and recognition usually reserved for breakout feature directors.  The sold-out audience attending the short film program were there on the strength of the buzz around Silent Tears.  Shirley was ecstatic and though I could be jealous that my film did not do as well, I was instead caught up in Cheechoo-mania.   Silent Tears is really that good. So good in fact that if you follow a link for my film, Rosa's TIme you will find instead a description of Silent Tears - and I don't even mind.. 

Recently our paths crossed again.  This time we were at Cinefest, Sudbury film festival that follows on the heels of TIFF.  She was not there alone.  With her were a number of students from the Weengushk Film Institute of which Shirley is the founder and creative director.  In the time since I've last seen her Shirley not only continued to make films, both as a director and actor, but she took her passion - the one that is so clearly realized in Silent Tears - and is now sharing that same passion with young filmmakers in Northern Ontario. 

It's at Cinefest that Shirley introduces me to her students. One student in particular stands out - Isaac kakegamic.  The reason Isaac stands out is because he makes the effort to do so.   Isaac is working on an online series as a writer due to come out sometime this spring or early summer and he wanted me to know about.   Shirley is teaching him well. 

Isaac tells me that the series is called Townehouse where the majority of characters are first nations.  I perk up my ears.  First nations filmmakers are on the rise and there is definitely a story here.  But my enthusiasm is redirected somewhat by Isaac who reminds me that, despite there being a rise in First nation filmmakers, the school and Isaac himself, are interested in nurturing young filmmakers(and being nurtured as a young filmmaker) regardless of any cultural background.  It's a gentle reminder how even those us with our best intentions can sometimes fall prey to a knee-jerk need to impose some sort of  cultural segregation. 

It's then that Isaac tells me in a bit more about the Weengushk Film Institute and suggest I visit their website.  If I hadn't been sold before, I was now. 

I look forward to following the path of their project - to hearing about the progress, bumps and success along the way.  And I'm anxious to see where Shirley, Isaac and the Weengushk Film Institute will take the next generation of filmmakers.