I LOVE road trips – the music, eating bad snacks, meeting new people, and adventures to new places. That is why I jumped at the chance to accompany Violet on imagineNATIVE’s Film + Video Tour last week. It was a great chance for me to connect with the Festival’s dedicated audiences outside of Toronto, and enjoy the hospitality and activities in our northern communities in which we presented our youth and feature film programs.
Driving to Manitowaning and Wikiwemikong, a.k.a. Wiky(!), was a lot of fun. Violet and I have an embarrassing attraction to 90’s dance music. This led to Night-at-the-Roxbury moments of head-banging and heavy base thumping the entire way up the Trans Canada highway to stunned passersby. Driving onto Manitoulin Island was quite the experience – with -23 degree evenings and a recent (if only) snowstorm of the season, through winding roads and dark, forested mountains (for Ontario), I felt like I was going to see Bruce Wayne’s lair. Holy moose crossing, Batman!
Our days on Manitoulin were fun and snow filled! We had some great food at the local hangout, The Musky, nutritional alternatives at a free “healthy eating” initiative at the arena and some specialty “After Eight” mint latte’s from the reserve’s new (and better version) of Starbucks, the Cedar Cafe. We met with Wiki public school teacher Jeff Eshkakogan, who really drove home the importance of the Festival’s tour to smaller communities — that as funding cuts continue in the arts in larger cities, it has a rippling effect as programs led by those in larger cities to cut their outreach programs and initiatives to remote ones. I am glad that whatever the turn out of our programming, there is at least the option for these communities to engage new forms of artistic expression and to see art that reflects and is created by their cultural peers. A perfect example of this influence was at the Debajehmujig Cultural Centre in Manitowaning. Audrey Wemigwans did an incredible job advertising the screening around the community with colourful posters, and has instilled in her employees a passion and active interest in bringing a diversity of artistic voices to the residents of the region. Volunteers and board members turned out and happily assisted in its success, serving popcorn to our audiences at the Wapos Bay’s screening. Check out the warm welcome from the audience below!
Next, we drove to North Bay – a great town with great shops and galleries and an active artistic community. En route to Temagami, we visited The White Water Gallery, run by one of the tour’s great supporters and promoters, Clayton Windatt. It was also great to connect with Holly Cunningham for our Nippissing screenings, who runs the Near North Mobile Media Lab, an organization that provides the tools media artists, students, filmmakers and audiences in Northern Ontario need to produce, present and enjoy contemporary media in all its forms. Screening Wapos Bay on Bear Island (Temagami) was fun, but the process for getting there was a little scary to this urbanite – a mild break in the weather turned the ice road to slush (not water, but close!) and the island’s hilly roads into ice slides. Thank god for 4WD! No, seriously. I was happy to be back on the mainland, mentally kissing the ground as road traction returned to survivable.
From North Bay, and after screenings at Nipissing University (otherwise known as the real life construction of The Labyrinth), we flew on Bearskin Airlines to Sault Ste. Marie. I’d never been on a plane so small that I couldn’t stand up in it, but I think I did pretty well having only screamed “we’re going down!” twice the entire trip.
Sault Ste. Marie was a cool town. I admire downtowns that are not run down even with the existence of a mall next door. We found some great organizations to partner with in the coming years and had some great screenings at Algoma College, thanks to Margaret Neveau, their Anishinaable Arts Coordinator, and left with a long list of local organizations that could be potential screening co-presenters and promoters in the coming years.
I have to say that if you are ever in Sault Ste. Marie, you have to eat at Cesira’s Italian Restaurant. They have a great atmosphere, an amazingly affordable 3 course meal and THE best banana cream pie ever. I think Violet and I disturbed others with our groans of pleasure for each bite. I will be thinking about that slice I had for a long time. It was so good I couldn’t be distracted to take a picture!
I am SO glad I went on this important part of imagineNATIVE’s outreach activities. It was a real change in perspective from living in Toronto, where one takes for granted the events and artistic activities that abound and proliferate so easily, to communities where these events are appreciated and engaged in as a rare chance to experience new ideas about art and expression reflected in Canada’s and the world’s greater Indigenous arts community. It seems like the importance of the imagineNATIVE Film and Video Tour will only continue to grow and flourish as a gem amongst the rocks of the Canadian Shield of the north!
And I can’t wait to be a part of it again!