Boredom Blues opens with youth dismally walking down an empty lane trying to find something to do. They visit a youth centre closed due to budget cuts, a corner store play card games and go to the junkyard to no avail. They are completely exhausted by boredom. Further on, when pondering about causing some destruction to fight boredom, the teens meet a musician who gives them hope and a creative outlet for their woes.
Boredom Blues was Indigenous filmmaker Craig Commanda’s first film – a collaboration with a few friends and the Wapikoni Mobile. In The Weight, Commanda uses filmmaking to explore his own struggles with depression. This is one of over 850 films and 500 musical recordings facilitated by Wapikoni Mobile– a non-profit organization that works with Indigenous communities to train youth in technical and social aspects of filmmaking as a way to combat suicide and isolation in their communities. Using fully-equipped filmmaking caravans combined with deep listening skills, professional filmmakers are teamed with locally trained filmmakers, a social worker and an aboriginal coordinator to support youth in expressing issues they face through broadcasting media in their own communities. These films are available online and are also screened locally, nationally and internationally to provide an outlet for creative expression, as well as for discussion and raising public awareness about issues facing Indigenous communities in Canada.
Commanda is an Anishnaabe multi-instrumentalist musician and filmmaker from Kitigan Zibi, First Nation who created over six films with Wapikoni Mobile as well as contributed as an assistant filmmaker both in Montreal and on his reserve. We spoke with him about the power of filmmaking as a tool for self expression and building a sense of social connectedness.
“It was painful at first to explore the depths of my depression. Unearthing all that pain and suffering was not a task that I looked forward to, in the least,” he says. “Somehow, I knew this work would be important, that it was to help me, and that I had to do this, in order to live a full life, again,” says Commanda.
Besides acting as a channel for Commanda to explore his own struggles with depression, screening the film allows him to connect with others on both a local and global scale.
“It opens dialogue to a sensitive subject that everyone, in some form or another, has suffered from or had a person close to them suffer from. It’s important to have these kinds of conversations, that we eventually realize we’re all suffering from the same thing, and that we’re not alone in this, that our pain is and isn’t unique.”
Call and Response, Commanda’s second film, explores identity issues he faces as an Anishnaabe. He was invited to screen it along with other films by Indigenous artists from Canada at the Wairoa Maori film festival in New Zealand. “This piece seemed to resonate with a lot of people. I have seen that a lot of people deal with the same issues that I have, in different places. This serves to illuminate our similarities not just as individuals, but also as respective peoples as well. We celebrate our differences, and reaffirm who we are as Indigenous peoples, through our respective work.”
Commanda feels that allowing Indigenous youth to creatively express issues close to them through filmmaking is a powerful healing tool. “It’s not only is a tool for healing for the individual, but our nations also, as it allows us to create dialogue amongst the issues that matter to us as a people.”
He feels filmmaking also allows Indigenous peoples to harness and adapt their storytelling abilities to redefine imbalanced media portrayals of their communities. “It’s important for us as Indigenous peoples to take control over our own narrative, and to sound our voices into the collective stream of consciousness,” he says. “For too long, our stories have been told by other people, and this has not worked out too well for us in the past. It can also give a false image of Indigenous people’s that the mainstream population holds onto, as a confirmation of their ignorant beliefs of us.”
Commanda believes the preservation of cultural heritage is another powerful advantage to having young, well-trained Indigenous filmmakers. He feels as though filmmaking captures the natural storytelling ability of Indigenous peoples. Besides having control of the stories and narratives within the films, the films themselves serve as valuable educational tools. “We have a strong oral tradition, passing down legends, lessons, traditions, and philosophies that are important to know. We can also use it to put down our language, and stories that we can then share with not only our own people, but others as well. This is a tool that can be used to educate people from our own perspectives,” he says.
Commanda hopes to concentrate his artistic focus on reclaiming his identity as an Anishnaabe, not only for his own education and connectedness to his roots, but to develop relationships with other nations. “I feel it missing in my life, as I never had it passed down to me growing up. The onus is on me to educate myself, so that I may educate other people, especially when I am talking to other Indigenous nations who want to know more about my own culture. I wish to make more meaningful exchanges with other nations, and to strengthen our bonds.”
When asked about the most remarkable moments that came out of his artistic explorations, Commanda reflects on the opportunities he had to work with powerful role models, and people he admires. He explains how he is consistently receiving praise and acknowledgement by people he looks up to. “I achieved recognition with my practice, and this inspires me to continue doing what I do.” He explains how being part of the Wapikoni experience is not just about technical camera skills, but an array of valuable skills such as courage, willpower and strength. “This is important for empowering our youth to do the great things in life that they are meant to do, to light the fires that exist inside them.”
You can read more about Craig Commanda and his work via http://www.wapikoni.ca/filmmakers/craig-commanda