Despite an eight-year production record that has yielded more than 450 completed film projects, the federal government has pulled the lifeline from Wapikoni Mobile, Quebec’s successful and celebrated First Nations youth cinema program.
Just as Wapikoni Mobile’s three trailer units were set to hit the road in mid-July, Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley announced she was pulling the organization’s $490,000 federal grant.
Without the funding, a series of Quebec First Nation’s communities will be left without Wapikoni’s summer youth employment programs – including film production training by professional First Nations instructors using state-of-the-art equipment and editing facilities provided by the travelling studios.
This unique, cutting-edge program has given a seldom-heard voice to First Nations youth over the past eight years. More than 2000 young film hopefuls have participated in the program since it was founded in 2002. Dozens of their films have been screened at film festivals across the globe, bringing home a haul of 44 international awards.
“I think it is a real tragedy because this project has evolved as a really important service for the youth of remote communities where in many cases they have absolutely nothing for those young people,” said Andre Dudemaine, founding member of the Land InSights First Nations festival.
“This was a very positive project that offered training in production and direction of short films as a means of developing artistic and social capacities,” Dudemaine added.
He doesn’t understand why the government would cancel a skills-development program that provided so much job training, especially given the opportunities provided by the thriving Aboriginal broadcast media sector led by networks such as APTN.
Minister Finley’s justification for cancelling the project was that the $490,000 could be better spent developing other skills, though she didn’t specify.
The rationale doesn’t fly with Abitibi-James Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou MP Romeo Saganash. “I just don’t understand how a decision like this comes about as it was a very successful program,” he said. “Everyone can surely appreciate that this was an important program for the youth.”
Aboriginal youth have few opportunities in their home communities, Saganash added. “They need something like this program to give them hope for the future and it really worked for them. This was something that gave them so much pride and hope and so why do this now?”
Saganash said he was fearful that other major cultural events in the north would also see cuts. Many people have appealed to Minister Finley to reverse the decision, to no avail.
Wapikoni Executive Director Manon Barbeau has acknowledged that it would take “nothing short of a miracle” to get her operation back on the road.
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come sent an open letter to Finley testifying to the positive impact the project had on the communities of Ouje-Bougoumou and Mistissini.
“This kind of interventions can work solely if it is continuous and carried out over a long-term period, as we all know. At a time when the positive impact of the Wapikoni Mobile has been recognized and when participants’ success stories multiply, it is crucial that this organization continues its activities,” wrote Coon Come.