A filmmaking experience

photo courtesy of South Slave Divisional Education Council Grace-Ann Nowdlak of Hay River, left, stands with Eileen Beaver, a Fort Smith elder who acted in the movie Three Feathers.

photo courtesy of South Slave Divisional Education Council
Grace-Ann Nowdlak of Hay River, left, stands with Eileen Beaver, a Fort Smith elder who acted in the movie Three Feathers.

Three young people from Hay River got a taste of moviemaking this month at a shoot in Fort Smith.

One of the three was Grace-Ann Nowdlak, who spent more than a week on the set of Three Feathers, a film being made into a movie by the South Slave Divisional Education Council based a graphic novel by writer Richard Van Camp being made into a movie.

“I was behind the scenes, sort of like a production assistant working mostly with the art department,” Nowdlak told The Hub in a telephone interview on Jan. 13. “We did a lot of switching the sets around, bringing out the props, cleaning up everything at the end of the day, and also we help with the fires and I always make sure there were fresh pots of coffee. Setting up the lunches for the cast and the crew when they were in-between sets, and running around basically bringing them anything they needed.”

The three young people got to participate in the film through their involvement with Soaring Eagle Friendship Centre.

Nowdlak said she first heard about the opportunity when Van Camp, who is originally from Fort Smith, spoke at Soaring Eagle before Christmas and screened the film The Lesser Blessed, also based on his work.

“Right away I was so excited,” she said. “I just knew this was always something that I wanted to get into and I never really had an opportunity to.”

The 23-year-old Nowdlak was in Fort Smith from Jan. 6 to 15.

“There were a few times where I got to sit in on a scene and watch as they filmed but most of the time there was really close quarters and with the sound guy and the camera guy and a director and the lighting, it got pretty crowded. So most the time we would just wait on a different location,” she said.

One unique aspect of the movie is it was filmed in four languages – English, Cree, Chipewyan and South Slave. Scenes were shot in the different languages and there will be four versions of the film.

“It was so exciting and the part that I really loved was the fact that they had the language specialists on-site and they actually filmed every scene four times,” said Nowdlak. “I think it’s absolutely amazing.”

Her name will be among the credits when the movie is completed in its various versions.

“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “I can’t wait to see it.”

Nowdlak said she was hoping to learn as much as she could through the experience.

“I was really interested in learning about how films were made and seeing behind the scenes, which is what I did,” she said. “It was great to meet all the amazing people they have on the cast and all of the crew. It’s just been an experience I won’t forget.”

And she now hopes to become involved with the filmmaking community in the future.

The two other young people from Hay River – Skye Boucher and Brooke Gauthier-Moore – spent a weekend on the filming doing the same kind of work as Nowdlak.

Brent Kaulback, the retired assistant superintendent with the divisional council and a producer of the movie, said there was a mentorship program with the film through funding from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

“So our goal was to bring younger people, interested people on set so that they could sort of see the filming process and be part of it in one way or another,” he said. “In all cases, we’ve actually assigned real jobs and real tasks mainly to do with props and costuming and production assistant types of things. So they’ve had real jobs to do and they’ve done very well. The group that we had from Hay River has done an excellent job.”

The young people – about 12 in all – also came from Yellowknife, Fort Simpson, High Level and Edmonton to help the cast and crew of about 20, many of whom came from Fort Smith.

The divisional council has invested about $50,000 into the production but assistance from other organizations and individuals increased the budget to about $300,000.

Filming began in March of last year.

“Because the story takes place over four seasons, we wanted to get a spring, a summer, a fall and a winter film in that,” said Kaulback. “So that’s why we’ve done this in four different stages.”

The filming was set to wrap up on Jan. 16 and the footage will then go to post-production.

“What we’ll end up with is we’ll have about a 45-or-47-minute English version of this story and then we’ll have four other short versions about 20 to 25 minutes in each of the languages and in English, as well,” said Kaulback.

His best guess is it’s going to be either summer or early fall before the movie is ready for its premiere.

The film explores the theme of rebirth – changing one’s ways to become more connected with Dene culture and a more capable and contributing member of a community.

–Paul Bickford