What's an Award?
We were all very thrilled and gratified and maybe even shocked to learn that out film The Road had won an award – best short documentary film at the Montreal Independent Film Festival. As the reality began to sink in, I think all of us must have offered some words of thanks to the Creator for such recognition.
I have been working in the arts for forty years now. My first play was done in 1978, I believe, in my hometown of Regina. I have won awards before in different areas – theatre, literature, journalism – and I have come to realize that each award comes with its own specific reward. It could be money, or fame, or some extra credibility on your resume – you never know.
And that’s all well and good. Life can be tough and there’s no crime in stoking your ego or padding your bank account from time to time. But once I began to get my head around the significance of this particular award, I came to realize that its significance goes far above and beyond anything I have been involved in before.
First and foremost, for all of us involved, we are so happy for the girls. That’s what it’s all about at Stardale – the success and empowerment of the girls who take part in the program. To see the look of pride on their faces, to see them see themselves on the screen, to see that dream of being a movie star come true even for a split second is reward enough in itself. I don’t know what effect this project will have on these girls in the future, but I can only believe it will help them believe in themselves a little bit more and maybe even make them believe that they can accomplish anything in their lives that they put their minds to.
Secondly, we have to acknowledge the artistry of Venessa Wenzel and her company, Prairie Kitten, along with Helen Young who directed the girls’ performances. Kudos all ‘round. I remember back to our first meeting about this project last summer. Helen and I talked about it and came up with a rough game plan. Helen mentioned that she was interviewing some young film makers and asked if I would stick around for the first interview. I did and that’s when we met Vanessa.
After she left, I suggested to Helen that she cancel the other interviews and hire Vanessa ASAP. Gut feeling, totally. I had no idea about the quality of her work, but I could tell she was a good person with integrity, and you can never go wrong with that. As it turns out, her work is fantastic.
Third, this award is surely some kind of vindication for Helen McPhaden, along with Dr. Linda Many Guns and our elder Wanda First Rider. Helen has been working with aboriginal women and girls, first in Saskatchewan and now in Alberta, for over thirty-five years. I know there have been times of great frustration and hopelessness, even anger, that after thirty-five years there are still so many deaf ears to this important issue. Finally, it would seem that the world is ready to listen. Finally, it would seem, Helen’s dedication and perseverance has been rewarded.
And finally, and most important of all, I feel that this award somehow vindicates the memories of all the missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada over the decades. The voice of our girls is strong. They actually say, in the film,
A mass, vast group of native women.
My sisters, my mothers, my daughters.
You will never be forgotten.
The ultimate award, for all of us involved, would be the remembrance of these women, their dignity restored, and the hope that through the words of the Stardale Girls Class of 2020, this intolerable situation will become a distant if unpleasant memory.