STONEY NAKODA — Collaborating with members of the Stoney Nakoda community, a mobile audiovisual and creation studio is sharing skills to empower and boost the self-confidence of Indigenous youth in the area.
It has been a great experience working with Wapikoni studios, local coordinator Sandis Twoyoungmen, 22, said.
“It’s really good to express ideas. I know a lot of people here with quite the big imagination,” Twoyoungmen said with a smile. “They carry a lot of ideas and ways they can express that. Wapikoni can make that a reality with their mentoring.”
Twoyoungmen has experience working in film and music, he said, adding that Wapikoni has proven to be a excellent opportunity to encourage and celebrate creators in the community.
“It’s been really great,” Twoyoungmen said.
It has been a memorable experience getting to know the three-person Wapikoni crew and seeing how they interact with local community members, he added.
Youth Outreach Worker Zoltan Buki said having local contacts like Twoyoungmen are essential in ensuring Wapikoni studios finds success in the communities it visits.
“He’s a key member,” Buki said, explaining that the studio strives to find people who are connected to their community and can help find people interested in creating projects. These contacts aid in opening doors and smoothing out their presence in the community.
“We are here for only one month,” Buki said. “We have to start very quickly.”
Wapikoni studio gives youth between the ages of 15 to 35 an alternative to activities they typically see in their communities, Buki said. He added the crew will land in communities and serve as an audiovisual and creative studio for any interested visitors who stop by the studio’s trailer.
“In some communities we're perceived as a mobile youth centre,” Buki said with a grin. “It can get packed in here with teenagers and youngsters.”
People love to try out the equipment and learn more about audiovisuals, he said, even if it just fiddling around in the sound booth for a couple of hours.
Over the course of a month, the crew gets to know the community they visit while offering a different outlet for youth to express themselves paired with an alternative to the loneliness and boredom along with drug and alcohol use some experience.
“Youth here are really welcoming,” Buki said. “They’re easy to get in contact with and they pay attention when we talk to them.”
Typically the Wapikoni crew spends the first few days of its month-long visit waiting and connecting with people to help them build and structure their ideas. After the foundation is established, participants can then shoot and edit a film based on what they have envisioned.
The first official day of shooting in Stoney Nakoda was Tuesday, Oct. 15.
“As much as possible, we're only here to provide some guidance – the main goal is for them to do their own stuff, by themselves,” Buki said.
The Wapikoni studio has been running for 15 years and recently celebrated its 1,000 video upload on its website.
“Among those people there are many success stories,” Buki said. “When the kids first came in here they were going nowhere. They made their first film and now they’re making their living out of film making or music.”
Wapikoni is essential because it aids in developing Indigenous cinematography and helping provide a space for Indigenous people to share their stories, Buki said.
The crew is able to teach participants the art of filmmaking while encouraging creators to respect and embrace Indigenous ways of storytelling and knowledge passing.
“It’s a different tool to let them express what they are and who they are,” Buki said.
Wapikoni’s presence is fairly recent in Western Canada, he added, explaining that they have been the area for three years.
They are working to build Wapikoni’s recognition in the West, Buki said, adding that it can take dedication and time to gain a community’s trust.
“I think they’re a little bit cautious, they don’t know exactly who we are,” he said, but as soon as they sit down and learn about the studio people typically get excited to participate.
The time spent in communities flies, Buki said, because the crew is kept busy making meaningful connections teaching youth to build new skills while helping increase their confidence and self-esteem. He hopes they carry these lessons into their normal life and find success.
Twoyoungmen recorded a music track with his four-person indie band, Light Rose. The group is still working on filming a potential music video to accompany the track.
They were one of many musicians to record at the Wapikoni studio trailer, Twoyounmen said, adding that the studio also saw rappers, hip-hop artists and traditional drumming and singing musicians drop by to record projects.
“There’s a good mix in the community,” Twoyoungmen said.
Films created during the visit to Stoney Nakoda have spanned music videos, biopics, powwow dancers and experimental projects.
It has been amazing to see how dedicated some of the youth are to their projects, Twoyoungmen said, describing how some participants visit the mobile studio daily to complete their vision.
“They go out and make the effort to do something – there’s that commitment,” Twoyoungmen said.
Wapikoni has been in Stoney Nakoda since the end of September and will hold a showcase of projects created in that time on Wednesday, Oct. 23 at a yet to be determined location.
Everyone is invited and Twoyoungmen said he hopes to see neighbours from Canmore and Cochrane visit.
The screening serves as an opportunity to celebrate the skills participants have shown and showcase the projects they created.
One can see the pride on project creators faces during screening, Buki said, and he appreciates the welcoming reaction and support they receive from their community and families at events.
The creation of these audiovisual projects are part of the reconciliation process, Buki added. He has seen a difference in how Indigenous peoples are perceived, especially in Quebec. He said he thinks Wapikoni has played a small role in this change.
There has been increased recognition and respect for Indigenous peoples in Canada, their culture, their land and their heritage, Buki said.
“Wapikoni is just a drop in the ocean of the whole reconciliation process – There’s still a lot of work to do."