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DreamSpeakers On Tour: Budding Aboriginal Filmmakers

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CreativeCOW presents DreamSpeakers On Tour: Budding Aboriginal Filmmakers -- Indie Film & Documentary Feature


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Budding Aboriginal filmmakers and Dreamspeakers work together to produce first films for youth, by youth, and the program has kicked off to a great start.

Producers of the well-known Aboriginal film festival held in Edmonton, Alberta during the fourth week of June, Dreamspeakers also has a mission of education, matching young filmmakers with experienced filmmaking talent enabling young filmmakers to write, produce, shoot, edit, and ultimately deliver their ideas.

For this recent project, Brandon, Nathan, and Jesslyn were selected out of dozens of applicants for the Dreamspeakers On Tour program. Students are 14-25 years of age.

The program is a three-weekend project where students meet with professionals in the film/video industry and learn their craft, beginning from the ground floor of film making.

The first weekend is about building the team, building the story concepts, and understanding how to visually present the story through lighting, camera angles, and creative presentation. As an instructor, we present several scenarios that they might grasp, and when the light comes on... we know we're ready to move to the next component of the shoot.

The first day incorporates lessons and games in finding and writing stories. Students are encouraged to find inspirations from within their personal cultural experiences.

In the first day, story-games are played where each student begins a story. The story passes around the room with each person adding their own twist or character to the storyline. In one particular example, the goal was to re-tell the story of Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking a lantern, thus igniting the infamous Chicago fire of 1871.

By the time the story was told, participants had experienced babies being born in burning barns, legs broken from falling down stairs, aliens landing, and all sorts of other unique story components.

On the second day, the students wrote, planned, shot, edited their first film, and were required to do so in an hour’s length of time. 85 minutes after they started, the students had created their first project. While it has some rough edges, they’re very proud of their initial effort. They had to get permission to shoot, “hire” a security guard, and cut the video. All three agreed the process was more demanding than they’d originally thought, once they considered angles, editing, audio, and how to put it all together.

Next comes their decision on making their own film, with actors, from a storyboard and dialog they wrote individually. They began moving in that direction very quickly, and within an hour or so, each individual had their own story begun.


This film was conceived, written, shot, and edited in approximately 85 minutes. The students are 14/15 years old.

Students were given one of three types of programming for their master projects; Documentary, Music Video, or Public Service Announcement/PSA. Each student chose a unique program and the scripting process was underway.

All three budding directors communicated their scripts and storyboards via email with myself and the project coordinator, Carla Ulrich. Facebook became a common method of communication.

With a two-week break from classroom instruction, the students worked closely with the project coordinator to develop scripts, storyboards, production schedules, and locations.


Interviews introduce a short film about bullying in the schools

The first project is a short documentary on the subject of Bullying in the Public Schools. The script called for three primary locations, a “news room,” a mall, and a “man on the street” interview segment. Fourteen year-old Jesslyn began the shoot in a local college room, and moved to the West Edmonton Mall, a landmark in Alberta. The college “news set” consisted of three unique commentaries that would open her documentary, and a closed discussion group for the end of the documentary. These scenes were shot in one afternoon with the young students.

We spent the next day on the Alexis Reserve, about an hour north of Edmonton, working on Nathan’s PSA, an anti-substance abuse piece.


The Alexis Reserve Band headquarters. Yes, it's cold. And it's a lot of snow. Compact Flash recording saved the day.

Most shots were exteriors, where we found ourselves working in extreme cold. Thank heaven for the Sony Z7 camcorder, as the CF recording unit kept working, even as the tape component suffered. Nathan wanted a rough look, and so asked David (camera operator) to use a monopod mounted beneath the Sony Z7, to create a smooth hand-held documentary look. It worked very well.

Moving on to the home of one of the tribal elders, scenes of robbery, exchanging money for drugs, teens partying/consuming alcohol, and abuse of an elder were filmed. This became the final point in Nathan’s video, and it’s now ready to edit.


Shooting in the -20F cold was hard on gear and hard on teen-age actors.

Sunday was used to shoot the last scenes left in Jesslyn’s project, with the West Edmonton Mall as the location. This mall is simply incredible, housing water parks, roller coasters, ice rink, salt water lagoons with sharks and sea lions, hundreds of stores, lots of water locations, enough nooks, crannies, and dark corners to house a small city of the homeless (and we later learned that the mall indeed has its own homeless population that comes out at night). The colors in the mall are amazing, making for beautiful background.


This anti-substance abuse PSA includes a robbery and abuse of the elderly. This interior is a reserve home.

Jesslyn selected four locations in the mall, doing MOS/Man on the Street interviews with teens and adults, asking them about experiences with bullies in their school years.

With camera operator David Bates and recordist Shreela Chakrabartty, we attacked the mall with a vengeance, intent on finding at least five solid interviews with people who had been bullied, or had been bullies during their school years. The interviews were surprising; Bullies exist at all levels and few were shy about sharing their experiences. In other words, the mall was a gold mine for Jesslyn and her project. Jesslyn wrapped on Sunday afternoon, leaving one project left to shoot, and all three projects for editing.


Shooting MOS interviews in the West Edmonton Mall, Jesslyn introduces herself to mall patrons, and asks for their stories and opinions regarding bullies in the education system.

Dailies were viewed via Sony Vegas Pro 8 software, and the projects are in the process of being edited with Sony Vegas Pro. Vegas was selected due to its ease of use, professional features that the students could easily access, and most importantly, its native use of the HDV files generated by the Sony HVR Z7 and the compact flash recorder. In fact, dailies were previewed, cut, and transferred directly from the CF card system, saving a tremendous amount of time and storage space, allowing the young directors to choose what they wanted and discard the rest of the content.


This scene included a "drugs for money" shot over a garbage pile, simulating an alley with this night for day shot. Note the Sony Memory recording unit on the rear of the deck.

The finished projects will be seen during the Dreamspeakers Film Festival held in Alberta, CA on June 18-21, 2009. The three filmmakers are scheduled to host panel for youth, sharing their experiences, challenges, and future projects. If you can't catch them at the film festival, be sure to catch the on-line presentations.

Congratulations to the youth directors of Dreamspeakers on tour; they have accomplished what many would-be filmmakers only dream of. Their voices have been heard.

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