Jessie Anthony, a Proud Haudenosaunee woman from the Onondaga nation and member of Beaver Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in Ontario, participated in the Tricksters and Writers Program under unique circumstances—she already had a project underway, funding secured, and deadlines to meet. Though the program is only in its first iteration, and thus is still in stages of development for both participants and organizers, Anthony knew that you only get out what you put in; her intention was to take the structure of the Tricksters and Writers program and apply it directly to her process of brainstorming, story editing, and character development.
“I took advantage of being in a room full of Indigenous women, sharing my story, and hearing other stories,” Anthony says. “That’s the best way to learn—observation. I felt like I was held accountable for my progress and my process.”
Her latest project, titled Brother, I Cry, tells of two siblings connected by strong spiritual ties, who are both experiencing the inter-generational trauma of residential schools. “It’s commenting on family dynamics post-residential school, and how we enable our addicts,” Anthony explains. Production on Brother, I Cry just recently wrapped, and Anthony credits her experience in the program as a positive influence during the earlier stages of filmmaking. “One of my biggest [goals] was learning how to let go of the characters; how to not micromanage the characters and [instead] just write them and let them live,” she says. Being in a room with Indigenous women of various backgrounds and experience levels, as well as collaborating with other industry professionals, helped Anthony reach this goal. “I felt supported while I was brainstorming and organizing those thoughts,” she further explains. “To write a first draft and feel the encouragement and support of people who understood the journey [is] amazing!”
Understanding the journey, in this case, means not only witnessing individual growth within the Tricksters and Writers program itself but also knowing what it means to have an Indigenous story to tell. The women involved in the program all identify as Indigenous but come from a multitude of territories, backgrounds, and experiences. “Everybody has a different story, but their bloodline is connected,” Anthony says. She describes a sense of inimitable community and sisterhood within her group of fellow screenwriters and cites their shared Indigeneity as a major source of this connection. “We hold space for the introduction of each individual woman, where they come from, who their family is, but we don’t have to explain reasons or histories,” she states. “There’s already this knowing. I think that’s what really sets [the program] apart, and we take care of each other.” Folks who don’t identify as Indigenous may take for granted the assumption that when they walk into a room and tell their story, others will have a framework of knowledge that helps them understand exactly what the story’s meaning and purpose is. For Indigenous writers, that isn’t always the case. Details of life outside the settler experience are inextricable from the stories told by Indigenous filmmakers, and so working with people who can skip over the minutiae of cultural explanation and jump straight into a richer understanding of a story’s nuance and intent is exceptionally important. A multitude of experience exists within the definitions of Indigeneity, but in the case of the Tricksters and Writers program, this kind of cultural acumen and insight is shared amongst the participants.
“When you move away from your community—as most people who live here have done, especially Indigenous people—you look for that type of community; [in this case] Indigenous female writers who are on the same wavelength for creativity and inspiration, or who are in the same headspace for storytelling. When you step into a space like that, you don’t have to explain yourself. You can just be, and everybody understands the storytelling [style] and the story structure, so we don’ have to spend time on that. We get to just jump right into the work,” Anthony says when asked what the special value of a specifically woman-led Indigenous screenwriting program is. “You really find your community and your support, and [now] I can say, I know where there are 13 other female Indigenous filmmakers who will read my story and will understand the foundation of it.”
WIFTV is launching a Tricksters and Writers Program on Vancouver Island North and is currently accepting applications until Dec 5, 2018. For program info and application, details click here.
Tricksters and Writers has been possible through the generous donation from Matrix Production Services as well as support from TELUS, CMPA-BC, Vancity Credit Union and the BC Arts Council. More information on the Tricksters and Writers program can be found here.
To learn more about Jessie Anthony’s filmmaking practice and future projects, go here.