Rising Voices: Connecting Canada Through Individual Stories

By Kim Boucher Morin
Project Coordinator, TakingITGlobal
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

Last month, the documentary Rising Voices was screened for the first time at the TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre in Toronto. The film, produced by TakingITGlobal (TIG) in partnership with Heritage Canada as part of TIG’s Explore150 project, is a poignant and telling motion picture that offers insight into the lives of diverse individuals across Canada — their passions, struggles and stories connecting them, unexpectedly.

Initially meant to be only 15 minutes in length and serve as a proof of concept, the film took on a life of its own once the camera started rolling. “We thought, let’s see if we can take this a bit further and create something more meaningful and expressive that would be an extension of the conversations we’d been having across the country,” said filmmaker Adrian Assoufi.

Rising Voices was shot over one year in 12 different locations across Canada: Carcross, Yukon; Petty Harbour, Newfoundland; Akwesasne, Ontario; Whitehorse, Yukon; Kahnawake, Quebec; Montreal, Quebec; Toronto, Ontario; St John’s, Newfoundland; Arviat, Nunavut; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Vancouver, BC; and Cape Dorset, Nunavut. The film features 25 individuals, primarily youth, who share personal and communal experiences, as well as thoughts on how we, as a nation, can improve in the years to come. One of the film’s voices, Faith Geoff Wilson from Toronto, explained that “telling stories helps people to give them life, to give them hope and to give them a sense of community and identity.” When asked what the goal of the documentary was, filmmakers Michael Lobel and Adrian Assoufi readily agreed: it was to provide a platform for these young voices to be heard.

Conversations in the film touched upon a wide variety of topics, including mental health, Indigenous rights, systemic discrimination, the power of art, cultural reintegration, environmental sustainability, identity, and community. Though diverse, Michael Lobel noted a common thread through the individual stories was a desire to be part of a greater solution.  Youth featured are candid, as they openly share their experience tackling issues in their communities. The importance of these conversations can be seen in the invalidating of the fear of what is ‘other’ and how the film provides a space in which participants and audiences alike can learn from one another. A platform, such as Rising Voices, enables us to identify parallels in which we can build upon, allowing us to approach differences with understanding and respect. 

Throughout this project, many conversations were held in relation to Canada’s national identity. What does it mean to be Canadian across diverse communities? Are the answers compatible? How do we move forward in unison? Eugene Boulanger, an Indigenous vocal artist from Vancouver featured in the film, explained, “What has been very problematic, historically in Canada, is the lack of dialogue or engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation needs to be internalized. What it calls on each one of us to do, is to think about the ways in which we enact patriarchy, colonialism, and violence.” 

“Our hope is for people to be inspired and to realize that they are not alone in the challenges they are facing”, said Assoufi. Lobel added, “A sense of awareness of our neighbours is the foundation for respecting our neighbours.”

The Toronto screening of Rising Voices hosted 130 people and was followed by a panel featuring 3 of the film’s interviewees, Wentanoron Roundpoint, Shelby Tia Angalik, and Tim McConnell, as well as Alan Convery, Director of Government and Foundation Relations for TIFF. Audience members had the opportunity to ask the panelists questions and were highly engaged in the discussions following the documentary.

When asked what individuals can do to further the conversation and contribute to communal progress, Wentanoron replied simply: “Listen. Listen to those willing to share, be willing to feel uncomfortable when your privilege becomes discernible, and open your ears and mind.”

Rising Voices will be shown in various locations across the country over the coming months, starting with Montreal on January 30th. For more information on this event, please visit https://www.facebook.com/events/915149065304959/.