Best Of The West 2012: Weengushk Film Institute
Filmmaker starts program to help film-savvy students realize their dreams.
Photography: Courtesy Nano Debassige
Manitoulin Island on Canada’s Lake Huron has been described as one of the most beautiful and scenic places in the world, a serene retreat that inspires visions and dreams. So it’s not surprising that filmmaker Shirley Cheechoo found herself moved to have a more lasting impact on the community after she arrived there to shoot her first feature film, Bearwalker (2000).
“I had 27 youths working on the film under key personnel,” Cheechoo recalls. “When it was finished, they kept calling and e-mailing me asking when I was going to do my next film. I knew that there were no resources on the island or up north where they could get more experience, so I decided to put together a program where I could provide the skills they would need to help them become filmmakers.”
A graduate of the Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and a former student at Norman Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre in Toronto, the young filmmaker understood the importance of mentoring in a young person’s life, not only to provide career options but also to enhance education, expression, and self-esteem. She set out to found a film and television training center to foster the creative potential of aboriginal and culturally diverse youth.
“Weengushk means ‘sweet grass’ in Ojibwe. I chose it because sweet grass is a medicinal plant that clears the path in the body,” Cheechoo explains. “I hope the Weengushk Film Institute will clear a path for its students.” www.weengushk.com